Crackdown on Cheating in Schools Must Address Misuse of Cellphones

by Christopher Paslay

 Cheating in public schools goes beyond state exams.  Students regularly use cellphones in class to steal answers.    

Cheating is a growing problem facing public education.  PA Education Secretary Ron Tomalis recently ordered the state to investigate 49 school districts across Pennsylvania for alleged cheating on PSSA tests taken since 2009.  A recent report by the Georgia governor’s office showed that for years, Atlanta public school teachers altered student answer sheets on state tests.      

What has gotten systematically ignored by school leaders and politicians, ironically, is the daily cheating that goes on in American classrooms at the hands of cellphones.     

In 2009, Common Sense Media commissioned the Benenson Strategy Group to conduct extensive interviews with teenage students about the use of digital media for cheating in school.  The report concluded that 83 percent of students had cellphones and that in an average week, teens sent 440 text messages—110 of which were sent during class.  Sixty-five percent of teens used their cellphones in the building despite school policy.  Thirty-five percent admitted to cheating on a test at least once with their cellphone, while 65 percent said they knew of somebody who had cheated with a cellphone. 

To cut down on cheating, and to eliminate unwanted distractions, some educators have banned cellphones from their classrooms altogether.  If a cellphone is seen or heard in class, it is immediately confiscated and not returned until the end of the period.          

Interestingly, teachers who ban the use of cellphones are often labeled as old fashioned.  There is a growing pressure from society to embrace technology in all its glory, and this includes using cellphones as a learning tool in the classroom.  Education is nearing a point when all schools will be paperless, when the electronic word will replace the printed word, when laptops will serve the function of books.          

When you cut through all the rhetoric about technology, however, cellphones are an addiction.  A cellphone might be good for accessing the internet to do research, or it might have other multimedia uses and applications, but there’s going to be a time when the cellphone will need to be turned off and put away.  And too many teens do not have the self discipline to do so.     

Cell phone companies undoubtedly understand this addiction, but they’re not going to stop advertising to teens or let disruptions in learning get in the way of making billions of dollars in profit.  To ward off complaints by teachers and meet objections from educators before they can be adequately raised, cellphone companies have been donating a piece of their extremely large profits to education.

Verizon, for example, has started, a website that offers free lesson plans and professional development for teachers, after school activities for children, education news, and the like. To lay it on even thicker, they also launched, a website that boasts of a goal to “improve literacy and strengthen educational achievement for children and adults by preparing them for success in the 21st Century.”  Verizon even offers educational awards and grants to certain schools.

Not everyone associated with technology is so intent on keeping up a glowing image, however.  “Baby Shaker,” the 2009 Apple multimedia application that allowed users to shake their iPhone and in the process silence a crying baby on the screen is one example.  Although Apple apologized and removed the program from their website because of complaints from child welfare groups, it’s inconceivable as to why Apple would have placed a game like this on the market in the first place.

For those who thought Baby Shaker was just a harmless gag, they should understand what researchers in early childhood education have been saying for decades: the development of a child’s vocabulary and later academic achievement has a direct correlation to their interaction with their parents in infancy.  A child who grows up in a home where his parents shake him or shout discouragements is more likely to have a lower IQ later in life.    

Technology has a place in education, although as a culture we must be careful not to abuse it.  Just as school leaders have been careful to police state tests, so too must they fight against the misuse of cellphones in classrooms.

Teens and cellphones: Some startling statistics



by Christopher Paslay


Recently, Common Sense Media and Benenson Strategy Group conducted over 2,000 interviews with teenagers about their cellphone use.  Here are some of their findings:


          –Eight in 10 teenagers have cell phones.


          –In an average week, teens send 440 text messages.


          –110 of these text messages are sent during class.


          –65 percent of teens use their cellphones in the building  despite school policy.


          –35 percent admitted to cheating on a test at least once with their cellphone.


          –65 percent say they know of somebody who has cheated with a cellphone.


          –Only 41 percent say that cheating with a cellphone is a serious offense.       


Although technology is obviously here to stay, and progressive educators must find innovative ways to use this technology to their students’ benefit, I believe we are nearing critical mass when it comes to cellphones and the classroom.  Something has got to give: the cellphone or academic integrity.


In my opinion, cellphones in schools are going to eventually go in the direction of cellphones in cars—there will be stricter rules and regulations put in place to keep teens from abusing technology.


Let’s just hope principals and education policy makers come to their senses sooner rather than later.