On Final Day of Public School Year, Stuyvesant Reels Over Reports of Cheating

Email a Friend

And so here we are. The last day of school for the public school system in New York City. SchoolBook enjoyed the journey, even if the ending was a bit peculiar. (In fact, we wonder what attendance has been these last few days -- and how many students are making it in for the last few hours?)

At Stuyvesant High School, the school year ended on a negative note, with widespread coverage of a suspected cheating scandal. (Gotham Schools has the full roundup of coverage.)

Anne Barnard and Eric P. Newcomer provide details in an article in The New York Times on Wednesday, saying that upward of 80 students are suspected of communicating via text message about exams.

Suspicions of cheating were set off on June 18 when the principal, Stanley Teitel, found text messages on a cellphone confiscated from a student during a state Regents language exam "that suggested students had been sharing information about the exams, Mr. Teitel wrote in a letter to the parents of students who he said were involved."

“I find this breach of integrity very serious,” Mr. Teitel wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times and which students said was sent to 92 pupils.

Contrary to other reports, the student found with the cellphone was not expelled. The student is said to be popular and active, and other students have started an online petition to save him from expulsion. His father told The New York Post that the student, a junior, was under enormous pressure, "stressed out because doctors fear the teen might have cancer and because he was robbed at an Astoria, Queens, subway station last month — which led him to fall behind in his class work."

“My son couldn’t continue to study as diligently as he used to. He said it’s been incredibly difficult to keep up with his studies, and so he became desperate. He was desperate to save his grades from slipping.”

The Times article notes that students at Stuyvesant have long debated the prevalence of cheating at the highly competitive school, "where competition for top rankings is intense and, some said, overshadows the substance of learning."

“Unfortunately, it’s a strong part of the culture,” Brendan Toyoshima, 17, a junior, said, referring to cheating. He added that he wished “there was more of an emphasis on trying to learn.”

“I don’t cheat,” said Zane Sterling, 15, a sophomore. “My grades suffer because of that.”

Two years ago, the student newspaper, The Spectator, editorialized that “academic dishonesty is firmly entrenched” but rarely punished, adding, “If you walk down any hallway in the building you are almost guaranteed to see students copying homework.”

The newspaper blamed not competition but an emphasis on memorization and standardized tests that devalues learning and contributes to mistrust between students and teachers. A satirical article last year took a lighter note, claiming that 110 percent of students cheat and quoting one who prefers to translate another student’s essays from Russian than write his own.

The city's Education Department is investigating the matter, and a spokeswoman went out of her way to repeat what she told other news organizations on Tuesday: that Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott is "furious."

Also in the news this final Wednesday of the public school year, Gotham Schools reports that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's new state education commission met on Tuesday for the first time:

At their first official meeting today, members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s blue-ribbon education reform commission stayed away from specifics.

But their two-hour discussion, held in a Midtown conference room, previewed some of the issues they will tackle as they travel the state to learn about problems facing local school districts.

And this time of year is especially bittersweet for some high schools, as it may be the last graduation for a number of them that are slated to be closed by the city as part of the "turnaround" program that will see them shut once students leave this week, then reopened in the fall with new names and revamped staffs. One of them is John Dewey High School in Gravesend; the Brooklyn Bureau Web site notes:

On April 26, 1963, a dozen New York City principals went into seclusion in Hershey, Pennsylvania. They emerged 10 days later with a plan for what was to be one of the boldest experiments undertaken by the city's public schools, a blueprint for a high school that would foster independent study, replace the letter grade system, extend the school day and encourage students to take charge of their own educations.

On June 26, that experiment — tattered and eroded over more than 40 years — will come to an end as John Dewey High School in Gravesend graduates its final class. Earlier this month, all Dewey teachers received letters telling them their jobs no longer exist. Barring action by an arbitrator, when school reopens in September, the building on Avenue X will house a new school dubbed Shorefront High School of Arts and Sciences at John Dewey Campus.

Here's what's going on in education in New York City this final Wednesday:

At 9 a.m., Mr. Walcott speaks at the Harry S. Truman High School graduation ceremony at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx.

UPDATED | At noon, the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, is slated to make an announcement with the Partnership for New York City, the United Federation of Teachers and Councilman Robert Jackson about a $600,000 grant to link schools with community health and social service programs. Also scheduled to be there: Chancellor Walcott, in a rare appearance with the teachers' union.

Happy summer vacation to all.