Cheating and ChatGPT (Denise Pope and Drew Schrader)

Denise Pope is co-founder of Challenge Success and senior lecturer, Stanford Graduate School of Education. Drew Schrader is a school design partner at Challenge Success. This article appeared in The Hechinger Report, February 14, 2023

Recently, there’s been a virtual tsunami of stories about artificial intelligence and its impact on education. A primary concern is how easy programs like ChatGPT make it for students to cheat. Educators are scrambling to rethink assignments, and families are struggling with another addition to the ever-growing list of online tools that cause concern.

Yet, the conversations we have heard so far are really missing the point. Instead of asking “How can we prevent students from cheating?,” we ought to ask whythey are cheating in the first place.

From our research on hundreds of thousands of middle and high school students over the past decade, we have learned that cheating is often a symptom of a systemic problem.

In traditional schools, students move quickly through multiple classes each day, and teachers feel obligated to cover a certain amount of material each term. The students take tests and quizzes to help “prove” that learning has occurred. In exchange, teachers give students marks that they can show for future college and job applications.

This transactional model often teaches students to prioritize grades and test scores over individual curiosity, deep learning and integrity. To change this, we must seek a balance between extrinsic measures of success and intrinsic motivation.

Such balance can be achieved when we value each student for their unique identities and assets, make space for educators to invest in relationships and provide opportunities for students to find connection, purpose and meaning in their classes. By doing so, we can increase learning and academic integrity.

Without this balance, from a teenager’s perspective, it might make sense (at least to their not-yet-fully-developed prefrontal cortex) to cheat under certain circumstances. Perhaps they have too much homework and not enough time to do it. Maybe the assignment feels like pointless busywork or they don’t understand the instructions.

Other students may cheat because they are struggling with the material and are not able to get the help they feel they need.

Likewise, it might make sense to a teen to cheat if they have to work that evening, or if they feel the weight of being the first in their family to go to college or believe that they have to graduate with a certain GPA. They might also consider cheating as a reasonable option when material rewards are at stake: things like money, screentime or other privileges if they don’t do well on an assignment or test.

Many students report that they are overwhelmed by the pressure to perform and are keenly aware of family expectations. Thus, it should come as no surprise that many students tell us that while they knowthat cheating is wrong, they don’t want to let their parents/guardians down by bringing home a low grade.

According to our research, 77 percent of high school students admit to engaging in at least one academically dishonest behavior in the last month. The good news is that we know from our research that students are less likely to cheat when:

  • they feel a sense of belonging to a community that values integrity and effort
  • they believe the teacher truly cares about them and their learning
  • they care about the teacher’s opinion of them
  • they feel invested in building their own knowledge and skills and see the purpose of the assignments in helping them to do so.

In light of ChatGPT and the many technological advances yet to come, we need to increase students’ genuine engagement and deepen their sense of belonging in order to change their motivations and mitigate cheating.

Here are some concrete ways we can collectively create environments where the focus is on learning and belonging:

  • Emphasize curiosity and effort. Foster students’ intrinsic motivation — the desire to do something to satisfy curiosity, find enjoyment and take pride in the effort. Teachers can offer students choices on assignments and invite them to weigh in on curriculum offerings. At home, adults can encourage students to explore activities and classes that truly interest them and where they are more likely to want to do the work instead of cutting corners.
  • Encourage positive student/adult relationships. When students feel respected and valued by the adults in their lives, they are more likely to engage in learning and act with integrity. Schools can build in more time for students and adults to get to know one another via conferences, advisories and lunchtime activities. Teachers can make their classrooms safe spaces where all students feel like they belong and can contribute, and families can encourage students to reach out to educators when help is needed or they feel overloaded.
  • Understand the role of assessment. The Latin root of the word assessment is “to sit beside.” When we partner with students to gain a better understanding of what they’ve learned and where they need to go next, we are truly sitting beside them. Educators can offer more frequent, low-stakes assessments; be more flexible with deadlines; and allow test corrections and revisions to promote ongoing learning. Family members can watch how they talk about grades at home.
  • Invite conversations about integrity. The news is full of examples of poor choices when it comes to honesty and integrity. Adults can leverage these opportunities to talk about their own values and ask students what they think. Students learn from adult role models who walk the walk when it comes to integrity.
  • Keep your cool. When cheating does happen, do your best to stay calm. The goal should be to find the underlying reason for the choice and brainstorm more positive coping strategies to use in the future.

Our hope is that as conversations about cheating come up in schools and homes, adults will pause and ask themselves what they could do differently to support kids who are struggling to make good choices. Investing in student belonging might be just as effective, or more so, than ramping up the academic integrity police.


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Targets of U.S. School Reform: Teachers, Schools, Districts, States, and Nation

“History doesn’t teach lessons, historians do.”  Because historians interpret the past they often disagree, even revise, the meaning of events from the French Revolution to the American Civil War to school reform.

What historians can do is show that over time constant change occurs. As a wise ancient Greek said: you cannot step into the same river twice. Thus, the past differs from the present even when they seem so similar. Consider, for example, U.S. involvement in Vietnam a half-century ago and Afghanistan since 2001.  Or “scientific management” dominating school reformers’ vocabulary and action in the early 1900s and the present pervasive audit culture of test-driven accountability over a century later. Historians can show the complexity of human action in the past and offer alternative perspectives that can inform current policy making but they cannot give policymakers specific guidelines.

With that in mind, I turn to the current conventional wisdom among school reformers that focusing on the state and district are the best units for engineering change in schools and classrooms.  In examining the actions of past generations of school reformers, however,  it becomes clear that where change must occur has shifted time and again from the smallest unit–the teacher in the classroom–to the school, the district, the state, and nation. As political, economic, and social changes occurred in the U.S., previous generations of reformers skipped back and forth among these units of change as to which would best produce the changes they sought.

For example, in the early 1900s, few, if any, school reformers thought of the state or nation as the unit of reform. They saw the district and individual school as appropriate levers for change. A century later, however, with No Child Left Behind, test-driven accountability rules, Race to The Top incentive funds, and Common Core standards in math and reading adopted by nearly all the states– many policymakers see both the state and nation as the dominant units for reforming schools.

Or consider the era of “scientific management” in the years before and after World War I  when efficiency-minded experts from academia studied individual teachers, school principals, and district superintendents to see how well they were managing classrooms, schools, and districts. In these years, reformers introduced rating scales for teacher lessons and schools while also creating district-wide achievement tests for students. The focus was on schools and classrooms as units of change that would eventually transform the entire district’s manner of schooling children and youth.

Among contemporary reformers, there still remains a deep interest in reforming how teachers are evaluated and paid including the use of students’ test scores. Moreover, many reformers pushing “professional learning communities” and “professional development” see individual teachers and schools as appropriate units of change. Current reforms, then, mirror an earlier period of intense focus on individual teacher and administrator actions as ways of improving the entire district.

Times change and reform passions shift. Consider that school reformers in the 1960s and 1970s were hostile to districts, especially in cities. They saw large districts as mismanaged and bureaucratically constipated, even pathological entities, that could not reform schools and classrooms. Both southern and northern urban districts, for example, dragged out the process of desegregating schools. Many big city district leaders also opposed breaking up central office bureaucracies and decentralizing operations into smaller units. The district, reformers said, was the enemy of school reform. Look to the school as the best way to change classroom lessons and district operations. By the early-1980s, especially after A Nation at Risk report appeared, the school became central to reformer’s plans. The whole-school reform movement surged forward in both large and small districts and continued through the 1990s. Charter schools, after all, when they began and now were and are instances of whole-school reform.

Not so in the early 21st century. Districts have again become the engine of reform. Big city districts, for example, receive grants from private donors and federal agencies. Foundations give awards to those urban districts that improve student academic achievement. Surely, individual schools still receive grants and the whole-school reform model exists alongside major district-based efforts. But the facts are clear among contemporary reformers: Federal and state authorities establish the framework for districts to manage reform. Districts manage individual schools to implement the reforms.

Which units of change, then, best achieve reformers’ goals? Research studies have little to offer in guiding those who seek to improve schools. Historically, the answer has shifted again and again, depending on reformers’ goals, and the theories they had in their heads about how planned changes occurs in complex institutions such as public schools.


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Are There Lessons To Be Learned from the History of School Reform?*

For some people, history lessons are clear.


For some, history lessons are ambiguous.


For some, history lessons are depressing.


These cartoons capture differences among historians, teachers, and the rest of us about whether or not there are lessons that must be heeded when decisionmakers seek solutions to pressing problems.

No clear lessons, however, can be drawn from the past because then and now are different in significant ways. Take the second cartoon where the man in the center assumes that the other two are agreeing with him when they have completely opposite analogies in mind. The notion of obvious lessons derived from the past assumes that, for example, France and Britain caving into Hitler’s demands over Czechoslovakia in the 1938 Munich Pact was similar to the U.S. government sending troops to Vietnam to prevent Southeast Asian nations falling like dominoes to communism and, again, similar to President George W. Bush and Congress authorizing the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to strip weapons of mass destruction from a tyrannical Saddam Hussein.

But, of course, the national contexts of the late- 1930s, the early 1960s and two decades ago were neither identical nor even closely similar. Britain and France in the 1930s, suffering the effects of a lost generation of its youth in World War I, were very different nations than the U.S. at that time. And in the U.S., since the late-1930s, momentous shifts in the U.S. government, economy, society, politics, and culture occurred to make involvement in Vietnam and the run-up to toppling Saddam Hussein and later, invading Afghanistan very different from these easy-to-use historical analogies. That assumption about situations four and seven decades apart being the same drives the idea that history can teach lessons. Grab your salt shaker because skepticism is in order when policymakers cite analogies.

Historical analogies, of course, are common. Historians use them to shed light on current situations and can be helpful as long as the different contexts for the unfolding of events are made clear.  Even Richard Neustadt and Ernest May, two scholars who dredged up past instances in Thinking in Time (1986) that could help top policymakers make better domestic and foreign policy decisions, stressed the importance of knowing the differences between then and now.

Those who fail to point out contextual differences or the weaknesses of particular analogies, in the scathing words of Gordon Wood become “unhistorical historians ransack[ing] the past for examples….” They are “presentists” who, in creating a “usable past” advocate certain policies because they believe their analogies fit the current situation. They are mistaken and misuse the past.

Which brings me to contemporary school reformers.

The recent crop of school reformers have had a full agenda that included Common Core standards, test-driven accountability, expanding parental choice through charters and vouchers, spreading virtual teaching and learning, and ridding classrooms of ineffective teachers based upon students’ test scores. These reformers had their eyes fixed on the future not the horrid present  where schools, in their charitable view, were (and are) dinosaurs. These reformers were allergic to the history of school reform; they were ahistorical activists that carried the whiff of arrogance associated with the uninformed.

*They do not want to know what happened in schools when political coalitions between the 1890s-1940s believed that there was a mismatch between student skills and industrial needs.  Vocationally-driven schools cranked out graduates who could enter skilled and semi-skilled industrial and white-collar jobs (See Benavot voc ed and Kanter voc ed). That was then. The current vocational drive to get all students into college and equip them with technological skills that employers demand might give reformers pause in learning from the earlier generation of reformers’ impact on schooling.

*They do not want to know what happened in past efforts in various cities throughout mid-to-late 19th century schools in introducing widespread testing, evaluation of teachers based on those scores, and accountability. See here and Testing in 20th century.

*They do not want to know what happened when previous efforts to introduce innovative technologies into schools stumbled, got adapted in ways unforeseen by reformers, and even disappeared. See history of technology and here.

Were these starry-eyed reformers to pause and find out more about previous widespread efforts to transform schools along the lines they pursue, chances are they would find that that historical studies instill skepticism and, in Gordon Wood’s words, question “people’s ability to manipulate and control purposefully their own destinies.”  Moreover, historical knowledge takes people off a roller-coaster of illusions and disillusions. ”  So often reforms go  awry and lead to untoward consequences, usually perverse ones, that reformers had not anticipated. History calls for humility among reformers, unfortunately, a trait in low supply among the current crop of amply-funded reformers.

These are the lessons that history teach school reformers.images-2


*This post first appeared a decade ago. I have revised portions of it and kept the comments readers made then. Please feel free to add your comments to theirs.


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Cartoons, about School Tests and Getting Good Grades

I have been publishing once-monthly cartoons on various school-related topics since I began this blog over a decade ago. I do it for the simple reason that it gets me to laugh out loud or grin as I search the Internet for cartoons. But most important, cartoonists’ pens can reveal truths about teachers, teaching and the critical importance of parents that books, articles, and essays take thousands of words to do.

For this month, I offer a gaggle of cartoons on school tests and pressures students face to get high grades. Enjoy!


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Chatbot GPT and The End of High School English (Daniel Herman)

Daniel Herman is a teacher at Maybeck High School in Berkeley (CA). He wrote Zen and the White Whale: A Buddhist Rendering of Moby-Dick. He lives in Berkeley, California. This appeared in The Atlantic, December 9, 2022.

Teenagers have always found ways around doing the hard work of actual learning. CliffsNotes dates back to the 1950s, “No Fear Shakespeare” puts the playwright into modern English, YouTube offers literary analysis and historical explication from numerous amateurs and professionals, and so on. For as long as those shortcuts have existed, however, one big part of education has remained inescapable: writing. Barring outright plagiarism, students have always arrived at that moment when they’re on their own with a blank page, staring down a blinking cursor, the essay waiting to be written.

Now that might be about to change. The arrival of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a program that generates sophisticated text in response to any prompt you can imagine, may signal the end of writing assignments altogether—and maybe even the end of writing as a gatekeeper, a metric for intelligence, a teachable skill.

If you’re looking for historical analogues, this would be like the printing press, the steam drill, and the light bulb having a baby, and that baby having access to the entire corpus of human knowledge and understanding. My life—and the lives of thousands of other teachers and professors, tutors and administrators—is about to drastically change.

I teach a variety of humanities classes (literature, philosophy, religion, history) at a small independent high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. My classes tend to have about 15 students, their ages ranging from 16 to 18. This semester I am lucky enough to be teaching writers like James Baldwin, Gloria Anzaldúa, Herman Melville, Mohsin Hamid, Virginia Held. I recognize that it’s a privilege to have relatively small classes that can explore material like this at all. But at the end of the day, kids are always kids. I’m sure you will be absolutely shocked to hear that not all teenagers are, in fact, so interested in having their mind lit on fire by Anzaldúa’s radical ideas about transcending binaries, or Ishmael’s metaphysics in Moby-Dick.

To those students, I have always said: You may not be interested in poetry or civics, but no matter what you end up doing with your life, a basic competence in writing is an absolutely essential skill—whether it’s for college admissions, writing a cover letter when applying for a job, or just writing an email to your boss.

I’ve also long held, for those who are interested in writing, that you need to learn the basic rules of good writing before you can start breaking them—that, like Picasso, you have to learn how to reliably fulfill an audience’s expectations before you get to start putting eyeballs in people’s ears and things.

I don’t know if either of those things is true anymore. It’s no longer obvious to me that my teenagers actually will need to develop this basic skill, or if the logic still holds that the fundamentals are necessary for experimentation.

Let me be candid (with apologies to all of my current and former students): What GPT can produce right now is better than the large majority of writing seen by your average teacher or professor. Over the past few days, I’ve given it a number of different prompts. And even if the bot’s results don’t exactly give you goosebumps, they do a more-than-adequate job of fulfilling a task.

I mean, look at this: I asked the program to write me a playful, sophisticated, emotional 600-word college-admissions essay about how my experience volunteering at my local SPCA had prepared me for the academic rigor of Stanford. Here’s an excerpt from its response:

In addition to cleaning, I also had the opportunity to interact with the animals. I was amazed at the transformation I saw in some of the pets who had been neglected or abused. With patience and care, they blossomed into playful and affectionate companions who were eager to give and receive love. I was also able to witness firsthand the process of selecting the right pet for the right family. Although it was bittersweet to see some animals leave the shelter, I knew that they were going to a loving home, and that was the best thing for them.

It also managed to compose a convincing 400-word “friendly” cover letter for an application to be a manager at Starbucks. But most jaw-dropping of all, on a personal level: It made quick work out of an assignment I’ve always considered absolutely “unhackable.” In January, my junior English students will begin writing an independent research paper, 12 to 18 pages, on two great literary works of their own choosing—a tradition at our school. Their goal is to place the texts in conversation with each other and find a thread that connects them. Some students will struggle to find any way to bring them together. We spend two months on the paper, putting it together piece by piece.

I’ve fed GPT a handful of pairs that students have worked with in recent years: Beloved and Hamlet, The Handmaid’s Tale and The Parable of the Sower, Homer’s The Odyssey and Dante’s Inferno. GPT brought them together instantly, effortlessly, uncannily: memory, guilt,

revenge, justice, the individual versus the collective, freedom of choice, societal oppression. The technology doesn’t go much beyond the surface, nor does it successfully integrate quotations from the original texts, but the ideas presented were on-target—more than enough to get any student rolling without much legwork.

It goes further. Last night, I received an essay draft from a student. I passed it along to OpenAI’s bots. “Can you fix this essay up and make it better?” Turns out, it could. It kept the student’s words intact but employed them more gracefully; it removed the clutter so the ideas were able to shine through. It was like magic.

I’ve been teaching for about 12 years: first as a TA in grad school, then as an adjunct professor at various public and private universities, and finally in high school. From my experience, American high-school students can be roughly split into three categories. The bottom group is learning to master grammar rules, punctuation, basic comprehension, and legibility. The middle group mostly has that stuff down and is working on argument and organization—arranging sentences within paragraphs and paragraphs within an essay. Then there’s a third group that has the luxury of focusing on things such as tone, rhythm, variety, mellifluence.

Whether someone is writing a five-paragraph essay or a 500-page book, these are the building blocks not only of good writing but of writing as a tool, as a means of efficiently and effectively communicating information. And because learning writing is an iterative process, students spend countless hours developing the skill in elementary school, middle school, high school, and then finally (as thousands of underpaid adjuncts teaching freshman comp will attest) college. Many students (as those same adjuncts will attest) remain in the bottom group, despite their teachers’ efforts; most of the rest find some uneasy equilibrium in the second category.

Working with these students makes up a large percentage of every English teacher’s job. It also supports a cottage industry of professional development, trademarked methods buried in acronyms (ICE! PIE! EDIT! MEAT!), and private writing tutors charging $100-plus an hour. So for those observers who are saying, Well, good, all of these things are overdue for change—“this will lead to much-needed education reform,” a former colleague told me—this dismissal elides the heavy toll this sudden transformation is going to take on education, extending along its many tentacles (standardized testing, admissions, educational software, etc.).

Perhaps there are reasons for optimism, if you push all this aside. Maybe every student is now immediately launched into that third category: The rudiments of writing will be considered a given, and every student will have direct access to the finer aspects of the enterprise. Whatever is inimitable within them can be made conspicuous, freed from the troublesome mechanics of comma splices, subject-verb disagreement, and dangling modifiers.

But again, the majority of students do not see writing as a worthwhile skill to cultivate—just like I, sitting with my coffee and book, rereading Moby-Dick, do not consider it worthwhile to learn, say, video editing. They have no interest in exploring nuance in tone and rhythm; they will forever roll their eyes at me when I try to communicate the subtle difference, when writing an appositive phrase, between using commas, parentheses, or (the connoisseur’s choice) the em dash.

Which is why I wonder if this may be the end of using writing as a benchmark for aptitude and intelligence. After all, what is a cover letter? Its primary purpose isn’t to communicate “I already know how to do this job” (because of course I don’t) but rather “I am competent and trustworthy and can clearly express to you why I would be a good candidate for this job.” What is a written exam? Its primary signal isn’t “I memorized a bunch of information” but rather “I can express that information clearly in writing.” Many teachers have reacted to ChatGPT by imagining how to give writing assignments now—maybe they should be written out by hand, or given only in class—but that seems to me shortsighted. The question isn’t “How will we get around this?” but rather “Is this still worth doing?”

I believe my most essential tasks, as a teacher, are helping my students think critically, disagree respectfully, argue carefully and flexibly, and understand their mind and the world around them. Unconventional, improvisatory, expressive, meta-cognitive writing can be an extraordinary vehicle for those things. But if most contemporary writing pedagogy is necessarily focused on helping students master the basics, what happens when a computer can do it for us? Is this moment more like the invention of the calculator, saving me from the tedium of long division, or more like the invention of the player piano, robbing us of what can be communicated only through human emotion?

Maybe the moment when I felt most caught between these two thoughts was when I asked GPT a question from an exam I give in my Eastern-philosophy course, something I’ve never imagined a student could find outside assistance to answer: “Explain the Madhyamaka Buddhist idea that all phenomena lack inherent existence, using a funny, specific example.”

ChatGPT wrote back, as ever, instantly:

The Madhyamaka Buddhist idea that all phenomena lack inherent existence can be illustrated with a funny example: let’s say you have a pet hamster. You might think that your hamster has its own inherent existence, but in reality, your hamster is made up of many different elements such as its fur, its bones, its muscles, and its brain. None of these elements exist independently or inherently on their own, so your hamster itself does not have any inherent existence either. The same goes for all phenomena—everything is made up of various components that don’t have inherent existence, so nothing has any inherent existence either.

Everything is made up; it’s true. The essay as a literary form? Made up. Grammatical rules as markers of intelligence? Writing itself as a technology? Made up. Starting now, OpenAI is forcing us to ask foundational questions about whether any of those things are worth keeping around.


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Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence in Classrooms (Natasha Singer)

Natasha Singer is a reporter for the New York Times. In writing this article, she sat in high school computer science classes. The article appeared February 6, 2023.

Marisa Shuman’s computer science class at the Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx began as usual on a recent January morning.

Just after 11:30, energetic 11th and 12th graders bounded into the classroom, settled down at communal study tables and pulled out their laptops. Then they turned to the front of the room, eyeing a whiteboard where Ms. Shuman had posted a question on wearable technology, the topic of that day’s class.

For the first time in her decade-long teaching career, Ms. Shuman had not written any of the lesson plan. She had generated the class material using ChatGPT, a new chatbot that relies on artificial intelligence to deliver written responses to questions in clear prose. Ms. Shuman was using the algorithm-generated lesson to examine the chatbot’s potential usefulness and pitfalls with her students.

“I don’t care if you learn anything about wearable technology today,” Ms. Shuman said to her students. “We are evaluating ChatGPT. Your goal is to identify whether the lesson is effective or ineffective.”

Ms. Shuman used ChatGPT to generate a lesson plan on wearable technology.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Across the United States, universities and school districts are scrambling to get a handle on new chatbots that can generate humanlike texts and images. But while many are rushing to ban ChatGPT to try to prevent its use as a cheating aid, teachers like Ms. Shuman are leveraging the innovations to spur more critical classroom thinking. They are encouraging their students to question the hype around rapidly evolving artificial intelligence tools and consider the technologies’ potential side effects.

The aim, these educators say, is to train the next generation of technology creators and consumers in “critical computing.” That is an analytical approach in which understanding how to critique computer algorithms is as important as — or more important than — knowing how to program computers.

New York City Public Schools, the nation’s largest district, serving some 900,000 students, is training a cohort of computer science teachers to help their students identify A.I. biases and potential risks. Lessons include discussions on defective facial recognition algorithms that can be much more accurate in identifying white faces than darker-skinned faces.

In Illinois, Florida, New York and Virginia, some middle school science and humanities teachers are using an A.I. literacy curriculum developed by researchers at the Scheller Teacher Education Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One lesson asks students to consider the ethics of powerful A.I. systems, known as “generative adversarial networks,” that can be used to produce fake media content, like realistic videos in which well-known politicians mouth phrases they never actually said.

With generative A.I. technologies proliferating, educators and researchers say understanding such computer algorithms is a crucial skill that students will need to navigate daily life and participate in civics and society.

“It’s important for students to know about how A.I. works because their data is being scraped, their user activity is being used to train these tools,” said Kate Moore, an education researcher at M.I.T. who helped create the A.I. lessons for schools. “Decisions are being made about young people using A.I., whether they know it or not.”

To observe how some educators are encouraging their students to scrutinize A.I. technologies, I recently spent two days visiting classes at the Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx, a public middle and high school for girls that is at the forefront of this trend.

The hulking, beige-brick school specializes in math, science and technology. It serves nearly 550 students, most of them Latinx or Black. It is by no means a typical public school. Teachers are encouraged to help their students become, as the school’s website puts it, “innovative” young women with the skills to complete college and “influence public attitudes, policies and laws to create a more socially just society.” The school also has an enviable four-year high school graduation rate of 98 percent, significantly higher than the average for New York City high schools.

One morning in January, about 30 ninth and 10th graders, many of them dressed in navy blue school sweatshirts and gray pants, loped into a class called Software Engineering 1. The hands-on course introduces students to coding, computer problem-solving and the social repercussions of tech innovations.

Stephanie McIntosh, a student in Ms. Shuman’s class, during the chatbot discussion.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

It is one of several computer science courses at the school that ask students to consider how popular computer algorithms — often developed by tech company teams of mostly white and Asian men — may have disparate impacts on groups like immigrants and low-income communities. That morning’s topic: face-matching systems that may have difficulty recognizing darker-skinned faces, such as those of some of the students in the room and their families.

Standing in front of her class, Abby Hahn, the computing teacher, knew her students might be shocked by the subject. Faulty face-matching technology has helped lead to the false arrests of Black men.

So Ms. Hahn alerted her pupils that the class would be discussing sensitive topics like racism and sexism. Then she played a YouTube video, created in 2018 by Joy Buolamwini, a computer scientist, showing how some popular facial analysis systems mistakenly identified iconic Black women as men.

As the class watched the video, some students gasped. Oprah Winfrey “appears to be male,” Amazon’s technology said with 76.5 percent confidence, according to the video. Other sections of the video said that Microsoft’s system had mistaken Michelle Obama for “a young man wearing a black shirt,” and that IBM’s system had pegged Serena Williams as “male” with 89 percent confidence.

(Microsoft and Amazon later announced accuracy improvements to their systems, and IBM stopped selling such tools. Amazon said it was committed to continuously improving its facial analysis technology through customer feedback and collaboration with researchers, and Microsoft and IBM said they were committed to the responsible development of A.I.)

“I’m shocked at how colored women are seen as men, even though they look nothing like men,” Nadia Zadine, a 14-year-old student, said. “Does Joe Biden know about this?”

The point of the A.I. bias lesson, Ms. Hahn said, was to show student programmers that computer algorithms can be faulty, just like cars and other products designed by humans, and to encourage them to challenge problematic technologies.

“You are the next generation,” Ms. Hahn said to the young women as the class period ended. “When you are out in the world, are you going to let this happen?”

“No!” a chorus of students responded.

Alia Goddess Burke, left, and Jade Capellan using ChatGPT.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

A few doors down the hall, in a colorful classroom strung with handmade paper snowflakes and origami cranes, Ms. Shuman was preparing to teach a more advanced programming course, Software Engineering 3, focused on creative computing like game design and art. Earlier that week, her student coders had discussed how new A.I.-powered systems like ChatGPT can analyze vast stores of information and then produce humanlike essays and images in response to short prompts.

As part of the lesson, the 11th and 12th graders read news articles about how ChatGPT could be both useful and error-prone. They also read social media posts about how the chatbot could be prompted to generate texts promoting hate and violence.

But the students could not try ChatGPT in class themselves. The school district has blocked it over concerns that it could be used for cheating. So the students asked Ms. Shuman to use the chatbot to create a lesson for the class as an experiment.

Ms. Shuman spent hours at home prompting the system to generate a lesson on wearable technology like smartwatches. In response to her specific requests, ChatGPT produced a remarkably detailed 30-minute lesson plan — complete with a warm-up discussion, readings on wearable technology, in-class exercises and a wrap-up discussion.

As the class period began, Ms. Shuman asked the students to spend 20 minutes following the scripted lesson, as if it were a real class on wearable technology. Then they would analyze ChatGPT’s effectiveness as a simulated teacher.

Huddled in small groups, students read aloud information the bot had generated on the conveniences, health benefits, brand names and market value of smartwatches and fitness trackers. There were groans as students read out ChatGPT’s anodyne sentences — “Examples of smart glasses include Google Glass Enterprise 2” — that they said sounded like marketing copy or rave product reviews.

“It reminded me of fourth grade,” Jayda Arias, 18, said. “It was very bland.”

The class found the lesson stultifying compared with those by Ms. Shuman, a charismatic teacher who creates course materials for her specific students, asks them provocative questions and comes up with relevant, real-world examples on the fly.

“The only effective part of this lesson is that it’s straightforward,” Alexania Echevarria, 17, said of the ChatGPT material.

“ChatGPT seems to love wearable technology,” noted Alia Goddess Burke, 17, another student. “It’s biased!”

Ms. Shuman was offering a lesson that went beyond learning to identify A.I. bias. She was using ChatGPT to give her pupils a message that artificial intelligence was not inevitable and that the young women had the insights to challenge it.

“Should your teachers be using ChatGPT?” Ms. Shuman asked toward the end of the lesson.

The students’ answer was a resounding “No!” At least for now.


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Cheating in Schools

By cheating, I refer to students copying homework from classmates or looking at a classmate’s answer on a test. Or even when groups of students steal a test and sell answers to classmates. More sophisticated cheating has gained notice with Chatbot apps.

Cheating in schools also includes those rare instances when principals and teachers burgled state tests and distributed answers among themselves and students (see below). And cheating is not only a U.S. problem; it occurs in every single nation that uses tests to sort students to place them in different academic tracks or allow them entry into particular schools on the basis of their performance (see here and here).

Educators caught cheating

While cheating has been a constant problem in schooling from elementary school grades through university courses since the very founding of tax-supported public schools, pressures for higher test scores sharply increased over two decades ago, especially after No Child Left Behind (2002) became law. Keep in mind that by the 1990s it was common practice among the 13,000-plus school districts in the nation to publish school-by-school and district-by district test scores. And those test scores now carried state and federal penalties for poor test performance. No surprise, then, that cheating increased in schools.

Consider what occurred in Atlanta (GA) between 2009 and the trials of nearly three dozen teachers in 2015. After an investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the officials reported that 44 out of 56 schools in the district cheated on the state standardized test. Nearly 180 Atlanta administrators and teachers took part in correcting student answers; 35 were indicted and all but 12 took the district attorney’s plea deals. Those 12 educators went to trial and all but one were found guilty and 11 went to jail for varied amounts of time.

Then there was the student-run ring in an elite public high school in New York City.

The former principal of the city’s best public high school tried to sweep a massive, 66-student cheating ring under the rug, part of a pattern of hushing up cheating at the elite school, investigators found.

Citing “a lack of foresight, candor and professional judgment,” the city’s Office of Special Investigations found that Stuyvesant HS principal Stanley Teitel failed to address the cheating ring when it was discovered — and then made “a conscious decision” to “obstruct the reporting process” by not informing city and state education higher-ups.

The Department of Education’s probe of its crown-jewel school was completed back in November 2012, but the agency sat on the embarrassing findings for nearly a year.

Teitel retired as Stuyvesant principal in August 2012, just months after hordes of students at the Battery Park school were caught texting or receiving answers to state tests that determine whether they graduate.

All of these instances are exceptional and make splashes in the media precisely because they are rare. Nonetheless, they have occurred and should not be ignored when it comes to documenting the prevalence of cheating in schools.

Student cheating

According to past and present surveys of students, nearly all admit to copying work from others, using crib sheets on tests, and high-tech devices to gain swift answers to questions on in-class tests. It is an open secret that most students cheat.

People cheating on test by looking at answer on mobile phone under the table

Completely stopping cheating in schools is out of the question when upwards of 95 percent of students admit to some form of cheating. Reducing it is surely possible. Yet student motivations to cheat in a highly competitive society where educational credentials (the more the better) often translate into higher salaries will not diminish in the near future. Moreover, individual achievement remains the coin of the realm in America. Chances of that value fading or disappearing, given the economic and cultural rewards that accrue to those who gain these educational credentials necessary to get access to high-salaried posts, is close to nil.

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Teachers Using Chatbot for Lessons (David Fortin)

A recent post on teachers using ChatbotGPT garnered a few comments from classroom teachers. I asked one of them, David Fortin, a teacher who chairs the History and Social Sciences Department at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia (PA), if he would write a post for this blog on using ChatbotGPT in classroom lessons. Here is his take on using the app as a teaching tool.

Larry recently posted about what he called a new “fad” in educational technology, ChatGPT.  Unfortunately, I think this is going to be more than just a fad. Writing for Inside Higher Ed, Jeremy Weissman is comparing it to a plague sweeping into classrooms and, like COVID-19, is ignored at our peril.  Naomi Baron, professor of linguistics at American University, warns that it will undermine student writing skills, which take decades to develop.  At my school, many of our students already are aware of its existence and some are likely using it to complete work for efficiency’s sake.  As UK education writer Daisy Christodoulou points out, what students don’t understand is that they will need to do things that technology can do better in the short term to achieve longer-term mastery.  After all, computers have been winning at chess against human players for decades, but that doesn’t mean chess should no longer be played.

I’ll recommend two things teachers can do now, but these run counter to the current educational trends.

  1.  Go low-tech.  Weissman suggests eliminating all technology in the classroom except in very controlled circumstances.  Watching students use their Chromebooks while observing colleagues, I’m always amazed at how they will go off-task, even knowing I’m behind them and can see their screens.  Unless the school has invested in some sort of surveillance system, as soon as a device is open the possibility of one or more students using ChatGPT to complete an assessment they find “boring” exists.  High achieving students may be the worst abusers, as they’re constantly looking for ways to save time. 

One easy answer is for in-class assessments to be handwritten.  This poses its own challenge, as handwriting—especially cursive—is dying as a taught subject.  Perhaps this new challenge will revive it.

  • ChatGPT only “knows” what’s available on-line.  A colleague and I were able to stump by asking it to answer a question I used in a class based on a chapter out of a print book.  The best ChatGPT could do was identify the author as an historian.  Because this material is in a book and not on the web, ChatGPT had no sources to pull from to answer the question.  The lesson might be to give students readings that cannot be sourced from somewhere on-line.  It doesn’t currently appear that ChatGPT can access databases like JSTOR which require a subscription, so using articles from these can also be a way around it.

My department has been slowly building its own departmental library, especially since my school recently replaced our print collection with a learning commons.  We currently have around 700 books and are growing it year-by-year.  As we copy and scan materials from these books, we save the files in a shared folder for future use.

There are those in education already suggesting that we embrace ChatGPT and use it as an educational tool.  Maybe.  I fear though that this trend will not only exacerbate the inequalities within our educational systems, but also take us a step further towards the anti-intellectualism that drives much of educational technology.  Why know things when you can Google it?  Why spend hours learning to write effectively when ChatGPT can produce better prose?  As Naomi Baron points out, learning to write well on one’s own is a journey that is worth taking and we as teachers need to make sure that our written assessments are not just about a grade, but help students to express themselves well.


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ChatGPT App: Use in Classrooms?*

A current instructional fad talked about by both public school teachers and university professors is called ChatGPT. In less than two months, the artificial intelligence-generated app has been the subject of many articles and predictions of students cheating when writing essays, doing book reports and preparing research studies in both public schools and universities. Some school districts have blocked access to the app on those devices they distribute to students and teachers (see here and here).

Sorting out media attention to ChatGPT from what teachers and professors do daily in their classrooms once they close their doors has been a perennial problem for educational researchers simply because so few researchers actually enter classrooms, observe lessons, and interview teachers. Figuring out how often professors, teachers, and students use this much hyped app is tricky. Anecdotal evidence is king.

The fact is that right now, no one can say with confidence how often or how much students, teachers, and professors use the app to generate written work for either homework assignments or published work. Nor can anyone say with confidence to what degree the app helps or hinders teaching and learning. Read what Professor Sarah Levine at Stanford University (and former high school English teacher) had to say about the app.

Teachers are talking about ChatGPT as either a dangerous medicine with amazing side effects or an amazing medicine with dangerous side effects. When it comes to teaching writing, I’m in the latter camp. 

First, ChatGPT may help students use writing as a tool for thinking in ways that students currently do not. Many students are not yet fluent enough writers to use the process of writing as a way to discover and clarify their ideas. ChatGPT may address that problem by allowing students to read, reflect, and revise many times without the anguish or frustration that such processes often invoke. 

Second, teachers can use the tool as a way of generating many examples and nonexamples of a form or genre. Often, teachers have the resources and bandwidth to find or create one or two models of a particular kind of writing — say, a personal narrative about a family relationship. As a result, students may come to believe that there is only one way to write such a narrative. ChatGPT allows teachers to offer students many examples of a narrative about family where the basic content remains the same but style, syntax, or grammar differ. With many examples to compare and analyze, students can begin to see the relationship between form and content. They can develop criteria for what makes a strong piece of writing, or how one verb might affect readers differently than another. For teachers, designing instruction has just become much easier — ChatGPT is essentially a tool for creating contrasting cases, and most teachers will be delighted that ChatGPT is doing a lot of the legwork for them. 

Obviously, teachers are less delighted about the computer doing a lot of legwork for students. And students still need to learn to write. But in what way, and what kinds of writing? A third side effect of this new medicine is that it requires all of us to ask those questions and probably make some substantive changes to the overarching goals and methods of our instruction.” 

Levine’s response to the app suggests ways that teachers could use the app as another tool to both generate and improve student writing.

Now, consider the experience of Christopher Grobe, an Assistant Professor of English at Amherst College. In a recent article, Grobe, acknowledged the limitations of ChatGPT but saw distinct advantages for teachers and professors who ask students to write essays, reports, and research studies.

Grobe wrote: “The things ChatGPT cannot do [cite and analyze evidence, limit claims, create logical links between claims, arrange those claims into a hierarchy of significance] are the basic stuff of college-level writing.” Grobe then prompted the app to finish what he wrote:

Grobe: ChatGPT, please finish that paragraph.


However, that does not mean that ChatGPT has no value in the classroom. In fact, I believe that it can be a useful tool for helping students to develop their own writing skills and to think more critically about the ideas and arguments that they are presenting. By working with [recognizing the limits of] ChatGPT [and by pushing themselves beyond those limits] and engaging in dialogue with it, students can learn to identify and address the weaknesses in their own writing, and they can learn to structure their arguments in a more logical and coherent way. Additionally, ChatGPT can be a useful resource for generating ideas and prompts for writing assignments, as well as for providing feedback and support during the writing process. Overall, I believe that ChatGPT has the potential to be a valuable tool for student learning and development, as long as it is used in a way that complements and enhances, rather than replacing, traditional methods of instruction. [what is unique to their thinking, and to the way that human beings think. An age of generative AI, helplessly replicating conventional wisdom and ideology, is an age that will need the uniquely, resistantly human more than ever.]

Any academic subject teacher and university professor who ask students to write an essay, do a report, or research an answer to a question will now have to more closely review their goals for the subject they teach and how they teach it in light of ChatGPT. When more professors and teachers (and I might add, students) chime in on the the pluses and minuses of this app in classrooms, its worth will slowly become clearer.

But informed observers of instructional innovations must not forget that after this initial media splash, ChatGPT may well fade away in a few months as have so many prior educational innovations.


*I thank the weekly Marshall Memo (January 30, 2023) for including the Christopher Grobe article.


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High Performing Teachers with Low-Tech Classrooms

The title is neither a joke nor a poke in the eyes of techno-enthusiasts. Over a decade ago, journalist Amanda Ripley visited classrooms around the world and found that the best ones are low-tech. Specifically, she cited South Korea and Finland, countries that outscored the U.S. in international tests, as having low-tech classrooms. In South Korea, she quoted one student who described her room having a few old computers, an overhead projector, and few “new” technologies.

This March 2, 2021, photo shows children and a teacher having an in-person class while wearing face masks at an elementary school in Incheon, about 40 kilometers west of Seoul. (Yonhap)

A class in an elementary school in Gwangju holds a ceremony to welcome new students on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Children attend a class at an elementary school in Daejeon, South Korea, November 22, 2021. Yonhap via REUTERS

Turn now to Finland, another country that Ripley mentioned. Finnish public schools have high tech devices available to students and teachers. Moreover, smart phones are common among children and youth across the socioeconomic spectrum. While Finland’s schools vary in use of devices, available photos show many low-tech classrooms.

Finland Turku Turku – Waeinoe Aaltosen koulu (school): English lesson (Photo by Fishman/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Saunalahti school in Espoo, Finland Photo by Andreas Meichsner for Verstas architects
Finland Turku Turku – Waeinoe Aaltosen koulu (school): maths lesson (Photo by Fishman/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Amanda Ripley quotes an expert on European schools about the lack of technological innovations in schools around the world:

‘In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms,’  says Andreas Schleicher, a veteran education analyst for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development who spends much of his time visiting schools around the world to find out what they are doing right (or wrong). ‘I have no explanation why that is the case, but it does seem that those systems place their efforts primarily on pedagogical practice rather than digital gadgets.‘ “

In the U.S., Ripley points out that when policymakers and politicians imagine schools and classrooms a decade from now “they often talk about a schoolhouse that looks like an Apple store, a utopia studded with computers, bathed in Wi-Fi, and wallpapered with interactive whiteboards.” Yet when Ripley visited a Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) school in Washington, D.C. she watched a veteran math teacher lead a fifth grade class through a lesson without a nod to the four idle computers in the rear of the room. When asked by Ripley, what would her perfect classroom be like, the teacher said: “If I were designing my ideal classroom, there’d be another body teaching. Or there’d be 36 hours in the day instead of 24.” No mention of laptops or hand-held devices or interactive white boards.

Ripley’s point and that of scores of other observers of first-rate teachers is that both low-tech and high-tech machines can surely help students learn but it is the teacher’s lesson objectives, knowledge of the subject, rapport with students, and a willingness to push and support them that count greatly in what students learn rather than anything intrinsic within the devices used.

Consider Direct Instruction–much of which occurs in KIPP schools–and a math lesson where the teacher uses an overhead projector, a low-tech tool that entered U.S. classrooms extensively in the 1930s. Nary a computer in sight. Direct Instruction gives progressives committed to student-centered instruction heartburn but its popularity among many teachers and administrators remains strong in low-income elementary schools, “Success for All” programs, Open Court Reading, and similar structured teaching strategies.

And what about those first-rate teachers whose students are surrounded by an abundance of laptops, interactive white boards, camcorders, flip video cameras, and a host of other devices? Those teachers still have to figure out the specific objectives for the next lesson, how to get students engaged, what activities will hit the desired objectives, and how will they know that students grasped those objectives. For these teachers sometimes the high-tech cornucopia gets in the way. Listen to a high school English teacher who is in a 1:1 laptop school  (I am quoting Steve Davis, a San Jose Unified School District teacher, who I interviewed after I observed a lesson he taught):

Sometimes low-tech simply facilitates goals more effectively. Take a lesson on thesis statements for example. Each student has a thesis statement prepared (in theory) and is ready to share it with their group. I would love to use my blog for students to share and critique each other’s work, but it’s not the most logistically effective strategy. Marisol left her computer at home, Jordan can’t remember his password, and Justin can login but can’t seem to figure out how to post a comment. Sure, schools should be teaching these skills, but they’re not tested on the California Subject Tests. Technology integration has left technology instruction up to content teachers, while I learned the basics of computing in my sixth grade computer class. What’s my main goal? Teaching thesis. In this scenario, technology actually impedes my main goal instead of facilitating it. It’s much easier and more effective to get out the black markers and the butcher paper and have students make group posters and present them to the class. It’s not whiz-bang, but it gets the job done.

High performing teachers use high-tech and low-tech to engage and reach their students here and abroad. Not either-or. Unashamedly, I repeat a cliche that needs to be said again and again: Good teaching is not about access to and use of high-tech machines, it is about teacher knowing their subjects, establishing rapport with students, and prodding and supporting them to learn.

Ms. Garensha John leads a first-grade class at Capital Preparatory Harbor Lower School in Bridgeport, Conn.Credit…Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Kurt Russell, an experienced high school history teacher in Oberlin, Ohio, April 2022

A seventh-grade history class at the Atlanta Classical Academy, a charter school (David Walter Banks for The New York Times)


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