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A Business Idea for Anyone Who Wants It

Shortly after Brian Jacob and I did our research on teachers who cheat, we thought about starting a company that would provide cheating detection services to schools systems. What I quickly discovered, however, was that there were few things in the world that school systems wanted less than to catch teachers who cheat — suffice it to say that school districts have few incentives to self-police. As such, we quickly abandoned the idea.

Maybe now it’s time for someone else to give it a shot. With No Child Left Behind and other policies making standardized test scores more and more important, the incentives to cheat are growing rapidly. The New York Times recently ran an article by Ford Fessenden describing gross instances of cheating that were missed by school districts until whistleblowers came forward. There is little question that cheating is still widespread — which, given cheating’s low likelihood of detection, should come as no surprise.

Are school districts more likely today to be receptive to an outsider selling cheating detection services than they were back when we first thought about doing it? Definitely not. What programs like No Child Left Behind have changed, however, is the stake that higher levels of government have in getting rid of cheating. State and federal governments are now allocating large amounts of money based on test scores. They don’t want to be in the business of generously rewarding cheaters. Relative to the money at stake, the costs of detecting cheaters is trivial — maybe a nickel per student per year, which seems like a small price to pay. Unlike individual school districts, state governments care about catching cheaters — or at least, they should.

I know of only one company that is currently in the business: a test security firm called Caveon. Perhaps there are others. It seems like the market should be big enough to support competition.

If anyone is interested, the algorithms we used are fully described in our paper in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. Feel free to use them. In return, all we ask is that you let us know how it goes (and maybe share some data with us down the road).