4 April 2013

Widespread cheating uncovered in schools in Atlanta, Georgia 18 months ago was back in the news last week when 35 teachers were charged with racketeering and corruption.  Their actions are part of what may be the biggest school-cheating scandal in U.S. history.

One of those indicted was a school superintendent who became a national figure in 2009 when he was credited with reversing declining standards in Atlanta’s schools.  He led a dramatic improvement in standard test scores.  However the results were too good to be true.  An investigation uncovered widespread fraud that included teachers and principals changing wrong answers on students’ test papers, “…and an environment where cheating for better test scores was encouraged and whistle blowers were punished…”

The superintendent, no longer admired in the sector, is now liable to 45 years imprisonment. Of nearly 180 others implicated, about 150 are no longer teaching. Twenty-one have been reinstated after disciplinary action.

A variant of education fraud is playing out in Germany.  The Education Minister resigned a month ago after being stripped of a doctorate, apparently gained through plagiarism.  Two years ago the then Defence Minister resigned in the same circumstances.  Plagiarism allegations against other politicians have highlighted dishonest practices in German universities. These include consultants arranging doctoral research and double-dipping professors  being paid on top of their salaries to supervise studies that cut corners and may involve ghost-writers.

Concerns about academic standards have stimulated on-line communities to pursue dishonesty. The outcome of one group’s assessment of dissertations is that 20% of related doctorates have been revoked.  The hope is that there will be “…a restored climate of academic rigour and integrity, openness and transparency.”