Because America is committed to testing every child in every subject in order to make sure teachers are doing a good job, the number of high-stakes tests is increasing, and that means that we have to act boldly to eliminate cheating, which, coincidentally, also has been increasing.
Some background is in order: We have a cheating problem in our schools1. While a handful of students cheat because they are competing to get into top colleges, many more principals, teachers, and administrators either cheat or encourage cheating. After all, their jobs are on the line because we now judge, reward and fire them based on student test scores..
The situation has gotten out of hand. In Atlanta, Washington, DC, Austin, Texas, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Dayton, Ohio and many other places, adults have worked together, even holding ‘erasure parties,’ to change student answers from wrong to right.
So what can we do to punish cheaters? Unfortunately, we cannot just fire the cheating teachers and administrators. After all, who would replace 2 them? Education is fast becoming an undesirable occupation, largely because of the pressure to demonstrate academic achievement (I.E., high test scores), and that is making it extremely difficult to recruit new people into education.
No, we have to work with what we’ve got, just as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had to fight the war with the army he had. There are two obvious steps: 1) increase surveillance to catch the cheaters and 2) make the punishments more obvious to the outside world.
Increased surveillance will cost more, of course, but we can trim other expenditures, perhaps in the subjects that aren’t being tested and therefore not occasions for cheating. I’m thinking of art, music and physical education, but, if schools have already cut those, then electives like journalism, minor sports, and theatre are places to look for savings.
Publicly shaming the cheaters is essential. Making the punishments more public should curtail cheating. For younger students, the shaming should be temporary. Perhaps cheaters should have to wear bright yellow shirts emblazoned with a huge letter 3 “C” for a month or more.
But for anyone cheating after 5th or 6th grade, a shaming shirt isn’t enough. After all, 10-year-olds are mature enough to understand consequences. Here’s where I think a permanent tattoo would do the trick. The first offense should produce a stern warning. But a the second offense demonstrates they are beyond redemption, so let’s tattoo the letter ‘C’ or the word ‘CHEATER’ 4 on the back of the criminal’s dominant hand. Should there be a third offense, the tattoo ought to be placed more prominently, perhaps on the cheater’s forehead. While I doubt matters would ever get to that point, leadership has to be ready to make the hard decisions, for the greater good. 5
Would prominent tattoos on hands and foreheads be enough to stop principals and adults from cheating to save their jobs? Perhaps not, and so we ought to be willing to have a free and open discussion about other penalties, including–hopefully as a last resort–lopping off the index fingers of persistent violators.
It’s important to do whatever is necessary to protect the integrity of the learning and testing process.
- In colleges too: http://www.academicintegrity.org/icai/integrity-3.php ↩
- A judge sent some Atlanta educators to prison, creating family hardships and the replacement problem. ↩
- Perhaps it should be scarlet in color even though, because of all the testing, most kids may not have heard of Nathaniel Hawthorne. ↩
- Tattoo artists are paid by the letter, and school budgets are tight. Because education is locally controlled, that decision, ‘C’ or ‘CHEATER,’ ought to be made by local school boards ↩
- There’s precedent here. I’ve seen lots of war movies where the Nazis would shoot every 10th man as a way of making sure the occupied village did not cause any trouble. Most times, that got rid of the trouble, although some people didn’t get the message and kept on fighting. ↩