Education Letter to the Editor

Cheating Will Be Curbed When Only Performance Matters

July 17, 2007 1 min read

To the Editor:

Kristi L. Mann appropriately raises concerns about grading and cheating in her recent Commentary (“Thoughts on Cheating,” June 13, 2007). Educators need to listen to what her students are telling her.

The old, industrial-style school culture requires that students trade papers (productive work) for grades (wages). That rusty relic doesn’t work anymore, and young people know it. According to Ms. Mann, 86 percent of high school students cheat. They are telling us that they don’t learn from such a system, and that they can cleverly navigate through it in ways that minimize their pain and effort. My favorite example is the student who regularly e-mails homework answers to a large number of classmates.

Teachers don’t have to become “Nazis,” dictators, or witches to fix the problem. Instead, they must do something much harder: change the culture of education.

A better academic culture holds students accountable for learning based on their ability to show that they understand a concept or have mastered a skill. Students prove their achievement through tests, demonstrations, and presentations—put simply, they show what they know.

Homework is still important as a practice exercise in which students can make learning mistakes that teachers then identify and fix. It doesn’t have to be graded. It must, however, be reviewed and corrected.

In this new culture, for which students must urgently focus their attention on proving they understand and can do things, the paper-chase gamesmanship they have mastered doesn’t work.

Modern students know that, in the long run, grades don’t really matter. In the uncertain and rapidly changing environment of globalization, only performance matters. Students can’t cheat in that world.

Bill Harshbarger


Mattoon High School

Mattoon, Ill.

A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2007 edition of Education Week as Cheating Will Be Curbed When Only Performance Matters