“I can’t process that we are allowing this to happen!”
Words. The recorded minutes of a faculty meeting at Watchung Hills Regional High School contain a jumble of words and not all of them made sense, printed on pages of paper. Yet something was clear:
Teachers were angry about the widespread cheating at the prestigious Somerset County high school. Teachers were frustrated. Teachers wanted to do something.
“We have to try to change the culture,” said one of the instructors. “The culture of cheating.”
The document was obtained through a request for records filed by this website, Bob Braun’s Ledger, under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). This website filed the request after Elizabeth Jewett, the district superintendent, flatly refused to provide key details of what apparently was a cheating scandal that involved hundreds of students.
The faculty meeting minutes provide some of the details but, more important, the document dramatically portrays what a culture of cheating at an affluent high school looks like:
Some students are eager to game the system–maybe even make some money selling tests to classmates. Teachers feel powerless to stop it and blame the administration for failing to follow through on their complaints. The administration and elected school board seem more concerned about containing the damage to the school’s reputation than getting the truth out.
“It’s sensitive”–that’s what Jewett said in an email to an official of the state education department.
Many Watchung Hills seniors are hoping to be admitted to Ivy League and other highly selective colleges and universities. If word of a massive cheating scandal gets out to those admissions officers, questions will be asked. About both students who cheated–and those who didn’t. How can anyone distinguish between them?
And these will be questions that can’t be ducked by an administration eager to avoid bad publicity.
But at least the teachers–in the sentiments expressed at their meeting–show concern. They talked about how they tried to enforce the rules against cheating, only to become objects of animosity from students. Here are some excerpts from the minutes:
Teachers seen as enemy of students–animosity towards the teachers–need backing of administration and departments need to talk to each other—
It makes us a target–we don’t have the tools to prevent it, information has to be shared, teachers can tell their peers if student is caught cheating
Teachers look like bad guys for following the policy.
We look like the bad guys, not make exceptions. VPs then don’t follow through—-
VPs, of course, are vice principals. The disciplinarians in the school. The men and women who are supposed to follow up when a teacher reports a student for cheating.
In the latest case of cheating, however, the apparent student ringleader was suspended for 10 days but allowed to make up the work. Although she already had been admitted to an Ivy League school, Watchung Hills apparently did not notify the university’s admissions officials of the cheating charges.
According to the minutes of the faculty meeting, she obtained tests and sold copies to her classmates. To “100s” of classmates.
What the teachers saw as a “slap on the wrist” angered them:
It was calculated and she made money off of it…. I can’t process that we are allowing this to happen. we are not teaching that giving tests is morally reprehensible. She sent an email asking for work but not remorse. it was very calculated. all she gets is a EXC in the drop box in Genesis.
An EXC is an excused absence. Genesis is the automated attendance record collection.
The teachers recognized that getting into the best colleges is of prime importance to the students and, of course, their parents. But there are other issues–like integrity and values.
This is not about getting into a good school. this is about integrity–we are more concerned that they will get into Cornell. Teachers have to take the lead on this–
If no one else did , at least the teachers see there are more important issues at stake than getting into an Ivy League school:
I care that my students develop as citizens.
Indeed. What a thought.
The teachers also recognize that students are victims as well as perpetrators.
Maybe we don’t allow them to take so many AP courses–they are overloaded and have too much work–don’t give as much homework–less likely to cheat–don’t give a 0 (zero) if homework is 2 days late–a lot of students are mad because they don’t cheat.
What do students learn when they see their peers skate free from punishment when they are caught cheating? That should be obvious. They learn it’s dumb not to cheat.
What is our school value? We care about our rankings. We just can’t give a slap on the wrist.
Teachers will get blamed for what happened–because teachers always get blamed for what happens. But, clearly, this was a failure of leadership, of accountability. Teachers know that:
Administration has to be held accountable for students cheating; concern of the implications this will have on the school. this can be damaging to other students from Watchung Hills.
We have evidence on one kid, the 100s who were involved have not been held accountable. the kids are smart enough to do it. what is the administration planning in order to lead us?
One teacher whose comments were recorded in the minutes said something about cheating that applies, perhaps even more directly, to the failure of the school district to take decisive action against cheating. The teacher’s words speak directly to what the administration’s response should have been–not what it has been:
No consequences, no fear.