US teachers buying fake degrees in order to qualify for a pay rise

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The Independent US

Teachers are increasingly on the look out for pupils who cheat to pass their exams. Plagiarism from the internet presents an easy temptation for struggling students. But in America, suddenly, it is the teachers who are now under scrutiny for possibly committing fraud.

Teachers are increasingly on the look out for pupils who cheat to pass their exams. Plagiarism from the internet presents an easy temptation for struggling students. But in America, suddenly, it is the teachers who are now under scrutiny for possibly committing fraud.

Concern is mounting about an apparently growing group of teachers who are essentially buying degrees, usually over the internet, from institutions which pose as bona fide universities but often are anything but. They do it because the higher their qualifications, the higher the salaries they can expect.

Highlighting the problem is a case in Georgia. The state recently audited the educational claims of the 130,000 teachers in its state school system and discovered that 11 had earned salary increases on the basis of degrees achieved at Saint Regis University.

The name sounded good at first, until investigators determined that Saint Regis is little more than diploma-mill that issues impressive looking certificates in return for little or no course work at all. Questions started to be asked when inspectors discovered the university was in the West African nation of Liberia.

Similar cases are starting to surface in other states. Authorities in Oregon recently uncovered three teachers who had boasted advanced master's degrees from the University of La Salle in Louisiana. They got away with it because there is a La Salle University on a list of institutions accredited to give such degrees. But that La Salle is in Pennsylvania, not Louisiana.

Part of what is driving the fraud is a new initiative from the Bush White House. Called "Leave no Child Behind", it will require teachers to demonstrate advanced educational credentials in the subjects they specialise in. It comes into effect in 2006, leaving some teachers scrambling to comply.

Few states have laws that can punish teachers for lying about credentials.

The teachers in Georgia have maintained that they earned their degrees from Saint Regis in good faith, although six have resigned. "They feel that they did substantive work," said Michael Kramer, a lawyer for seven of the teachers.

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