How Should Schools Deal with Academic Dishonesty?

by  Deb Costello  |  Community Involvement

I want to ask you a question about educational policy. A colleague shared this blog post by Dr. Justin Tarte of the Union R-XI school district. The post describes the district’s policy for handling academic dishonesty including cheating and plagiarism. The High School policy, as described in the student handbook (pp. 35-36) is to treat the dishonesty and academic work as separate issues.

The first offense of academic dishonesty results in a 1-5 day suspension or detention and a make-up assignment that can receive full credit. A second offense results in more consequences, but the student is also allowed to make up the work and can receive full credit. The premise is that a student’s grade should be determined by academic work alone and that other behaviors should not have influence on a grade.

I think it is fair to say that this policy is not the norm. It is generally true that schools have various ways of dealing with academic dishonesty, but in most cases the work in question is penalized in addition to other consequences.

I started out feeling very strongly about this, but on further reflection, I have started to wonder if this policy wanders into a gray area. So I’m asking you, a leader in your field, a reader of the Lead Change blog, a person who values integrity in leadership and communities, what do you think?

Should grades and academic dishonesty be treated as separate issues with separate consequences? Are there examples of this practice in your field? If your child was in this school, how would you want academic dishonesty to be addressed? If you were considering a student from a school like this as an employee, what would you think? How should schools deal with academic dishonesty?

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K4Kats  |  02 Sep 2014  |  Reply

Deborah – this is indeed a grey area, but it still falls under the same umbrella — cheating. Cheating on grades or being dishonest academically still constitute acts of deception. Unfortunately, the behavior is so pervasive that many students don’t consider it “a big deal”.

I don’t think much is accomplished by punitive means alone. There may be many missed opportunities here to teach students that the consequences of cheating are greater than a mere suspension or detention and that it can have an impact on other areas of their lives. So many examples abound of writers, public figures, journalists, and others whose academic dishonesty, cheating or plagiarism have come back to haunt them later in life. Technology makes it possible for the transgression to exist in perpetuity. The lesson that honesty is the best policy may be an old one, but it bears frequent reinforcement.

Deb Costello  |  03 Sep 2014  |  Reply

Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. It sounds to me from your comment that you don’t believe in separating the academic dishonesty from the grade, but please correct me if I am wrong. What I do wonder about is how we “educate” kids in a way that helps them understand without creating a climate of fear. We can show kids examples of people that have suffered the consequences of academic dishonesty, but kids don’t really learn from example as well as we’d like. Otherwise no teen would ever drink and drive. Most teens learn best from experience, but how do we make the experience of mistake-making educational? I definitely want the consequences to fit the crime, to be both a deterrent and survivable, fair and consistent.

I would love to continue this conversation with you and any others that would like to jump in with their 2 cents… I don’t think this is easy.

K4Kats  |  04 Sep 2014  | 

Hi Deb – You’re correct – I don’t believe that the types of dishonesty can be separated – I believe that the lesson to be learned is that dishonesty of all kinds is wrong. The idea of reinforcing proper ethics and character-building may seem archaic, but those lessons have to be learned somewhere and we can’t assume that all parents will take the time to teach them in depth or teach properly if they don’t know the difference themselves. I don’t have kids in school, but I’d love to know how teachers view this. Do they believe that schools should play a part in instilling a sense of right and wrong in youngsters, or do they think it’s a job best left to parents? This is truly food for thought and I’m sure the discussion will continue. Thank you again for reminding us how important this is.

Deb Costello  |  04 Sep 2014  | 

Wow! That’s definitely a question with an answer that depends on who you ask. There are parents that are vehemently against schools trying to teach values, and others that send their children to schools like mine, schools that publicly support the teaching of morals as part of the mission. It seems that schools and teachers are being held responsible for more and more of the parenting of children in areas where there parents are not able or willing to be supportive and the community is disadvantaged. I really don’t know how much more educators are going to be able to do without additional support.

I personally don’t know how to separate action from result and thus far have not found an argument that would lead me to support the separation of academic performance and integrity. I just don’t think we should be giving A’s to kids that cheat. Should schools be doing this? I think everyone should be doing this…

And that’s what this post was all about… trying to talk about ethics in education and what out society might be thinking!

Jane Perdue  |  03 Sep 2014  |  Reply

I don’t understand how any entity–academic, business, nonprofit, whatever–can uncouple dishonesty from anything. It’s all about character, regardless of the quality of the work or the economics involved. But then people do accuse me of being an idealist…*smile*
A long ago boss and I had a spirited discussion about stealing. He believed that helping one’s self to $100 of company funds was a different infraction from helping one’s self to $1,000. I didn’t see it that way. Stealing is stealing. It’s the same with dishonest and cheating. The “degree” of the fib or theft doesn’t change the fact that lies or taking something that wasn’t yours happened. But so much of what happens in our culture today aligns itself with my boss’ view.

Deb Costello  |  04 Sep 2014  |  Reply

Thank you so much for your insights, Jane. Your reaction was my initial thought, but I got some differing opinions elsewhere and thought maybe I was missing something.

I have always said that a person’s ethics can be measured in the small stuff. It is unlikely that most people are going to do anything drastic, commit a violent crime, steal a huge sum. But there are a lot of folks that won’t return money that is overpaid, will “forget” to return something they borrowed, will be cruel to those that are considered “inferior.” These are the tough calls to make in my mind, the decisions that matter.

I hope you are well dear friend. I miss you all like the desserts miss the rain.

Anonymous  |  04 Sep 2014  |  Reply

I thought it was an interesting read! I used to be a teacher and I absolutely think that academic dishonesty is a big deal. We had a plagiarism policy that was if a student had been caught plagiarizing, they received an in school suspension and a zero on the project. I fully support it being both a disciplinary issue as well as an academic one. Cheating resulted in a zero. I understand the opinion that it is more of a disciplinary issue than academic, hence the suspension with allowing a student to make up work approach, but I don’t think that is very real world. I think we live in a society where kids already feel a pretty substantial sense of entitlement, and that is not good for our future or theirs! If students are taught, that they can be dishonest but it won’t affect their grade, I wonder how that will carry over with them in the work force. You and I know that if we are dishonest in our jobs, our intentions or known intellect don’t get us out of a full range of consequences. It is the duty of my employer to make sure that all of her employees act with integrity and honesty, and if we don’t, there are no do-overs. There are no, “Well, this didn’t show me what you are truly capable of, so why don’t you try that again?” I definitely think that sadly, parents have stepped away from parenting and teaching values and morals, so it is left up to the teacher. Teachers also have to teach students how to make it in the real work. I think it is doing students a great disservice to teach them that in the real work, character isn’t just about the quality of work you do, but also the way you carry yourself and your integrity. Workers who get the job done without integrity aren’t, as far as I know, the type of employee anyone wants.

Deb Costello  |  04 Sep 2014  |  Reply

I agree with you in that it is difficult for me to separate academics from integrity. I don’t think being smart should shield you from the consequences of questionable ethics, but I am also very aware of my responsibility to educate students in math as well as ethics. We have CEOs that can have questionable ethics but a strong bottom line, politicians with questionable ethics but bring in money for their state… in fact money seems to trump a host of ethical lapses. If we want to do something about this, to create ethical leaders rather than simply rich ones, I think we need to do more in the educational process to ensure that students understand that their ethics are more important than other factors. I am not sure our society is ready for this lesson, but it is part of the purpose behind LeadChange.

Thank you so much for sharing your insights!

Joanie Connell  |  06 Sep 2014  |  Reply

Deborah, thank you for this thought-provoking perspective. I pondered for a moment and then went straight to the “real world.” Since school is supposed to prepare you for the real world, shouldn’t the consequences also? In the real world, people don’t get full credit for cheating. In fact, once they are found out, they often face far greater consequences than staying home for a few days. It takes a long time to build back trust after it has been broken. I would definitely suggest that students won’t understand that if they get full credit on an assignment.

Deb Costello  |  09 Sep 2014  |  Reply

Thank you you so much for sharing your thoughts here. I think this is how a lot of people think the same way at first glance (including me). I am still waiting for the compelling argument that changes my opinion…

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