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In their best-selling book Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner stated: “Who cheats? Well, just about anyone, if the stakes are right . . . . Cheating . . . is a prominent feature in just about every human endeavor.” Evidence that some people cheat surfaced in the summer of 2011 when the superintendent of the board of the Atlanta school district resigned after a report documented widespread cheating on standardized tests that implicated officials from about 80 percent of Atlanta’s elementary and middle schools. In 2015, an Atlanta jury convicted 11 teachers as a result of the cheating scandal.

Steven Levitt and other economists assume that decision makers—students and nonstudents alike—are rational. They compare the benefits and costs of their options and make choices for which the expected benefits exceed the expected costs. The benefits of (successful) cheating may be monetary; for example, K-12 teachers in some states are eligible for bonus payments of up to $25,000 if their students perform well on standardized tests. New technology has made it easier for high school and college students to cheat. The widespread use of cell phones and Internet access makes it easier (less costly) to share exam answers and buy term papers.

Sources: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics New York: HarperCollins 2005, pages 24–25; Patrik Jonsson, “America’s biggest teacher and principal cheating scandal unfolds in Atlanta,” Christian Science Monitor, July 5, 2011; Mary Beth McCauley, “Atlanta school cheating: When teachers cheat, what do you tell the kids?” Christian Science Monitor, September 5, 2013; and Valerie Strauss, “How and Why Convicted Teachers Cheated on Standardized Tests,” Washington Post, April 1, 2015.


We all know that students don’t cheat, however sometimes they do. Share your personal experience of cheating and the circumstances in which you were compelled to cheat.