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High-Tech or Low-Tech, It's Still Cheating


We all know kids cheat. And we know they use technology to do it. Here's an interesting study that tries to document the sneakiness: it reports that one-third of teenagers with cell phones admit having used them to cheat, and half admit cheating via the Internet.

A story on the report by my colleague Kathleen Kennedy Manzo points up more worrisome stuff: how teenagers feel about what they're doing. Most don't think it's a big deal to store notes on their cell phones to use during tests.

I've written about school districts' struggles with cell phone policy, most notably in New York, so I know that perfect solutions to managing cell phone use at school are elusive. But this study suggests one more time that we really need to do a better job shaping young people's beliefs about the ethics of their actions.


I find it absurd that students are able to get away with using cell phones to cheat as often as your article claims. If that many students are slipping under teacher radar with such a blatant, conspicuous infraction, it is clearly the proctor or teacher to blame, as well as the student. When I give an exam, I am aware of what each student is doing because my gaze is fixed on them. My students know this, and therefore will not bother trying to cheat. But what about teachers with less than perfect vision, or those who are just plain lazy? Then we need to address the problem directly; that is, prevent students from cheating with cell phones. It seems like a relatively simple matter to resolve: don't allow students to carry cell phones. Unfortunately it is not that simple when the penalty is less than severe. My school has a cell phone ban, but it is hardly a deterrent because the maximum penalty for bringing one to school is confiscation, with its return to the student at day’s end. Why are they returning the phones to students? Probably because parents claim their children need them for safety purposes. I do not buy this excuse. First of all, I managed 4 years of inner-city public high school without a cell phone, because after school I went home and did my homework. There was no need for my parents to search for me. Secondly, as useful as cell phones are, misusing them means the student is not responsible enough to have one. For example, as important and useful a car is, if a person drives drunk, that person should not be allowed to use a car for an extended time, despite how much the person needs one. Therefore, students caught with cell phones should have them confiscated and not returned until Summer. Period. This harsh penalty is the only kind of deterrent that students will respond well to.

Due to the shockingly large number of students who claim to cheat with a cell phones (the article states 1/3 of teenagers), the issue is probably more complicated than it seems. I would not be surprised to find out that, of the supposed millions of teenagers who admit to cheating with cell phones, a number of them had a blind eye turned to them. After all, teachers across the nation are feeling threatened that their jobs could be on the line if their students do not reach certain academic goals demanded by their administrators. Therefore, just as students can be made to feel like they must cheat to succeed, it is possible that some teachers would allow students to use unethical means to achieve passing scores. Fortunately, I teach a subject that most students are engaged in and find plenty of success with, so the issue of finding myself desperate for higher scores has not occurred. However, having witnessed plenty of my colleagues panic after poor standardized test results, it seems to me that some teachers might be under enough pressure to ignore cheating. I just don’t see how 1/3 of teenagers could have gotten away with using phones to cheat without many of them being ignored. It’s simply too high an amount.

With the technological advancements of cell phones, I wonder what the future policies of school systems will be regarding the use of cell phones? While many students do not have computers at home, most do own a cell phone. Many of these phones are capable of performing many of the same tasks of a computer. The dilema seems to be whether or not schools will choose to allow students to use this valuable tool. As for using them to cheat? Ultimately it is the resonsibility of the teacher to monitor their students.

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