May 2014 Illinois General Assembly hearing on the IHSA
On May 20, 2014, the House Elementary & Secondary Education Committee of the Illinois General Assembly held a hearing in the state capitol concerning the IHSA. The resolution calling for the hearing had been introduced a month earlier by committee chair Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), who in her speech on the house floor referenced the IHSA plagiarism scandal, among other issues.
David Reinstein's testimony
The IHSA oversees a Scholastic Bowl Tournament with over five hundred schools competing. It is wonderful that they support such a tournament. I have worked hard to support Scholastic Bowl in Illinois for the past twenty years as a coach, question writer, and tournament host, including ten years as the Chair of the Illinois High School Scholastic Bowl Coaches Association, or IHSSBCA, a nonprofit organization. During that time, I have been devoted to supporting the Illinois High School Association, or IHSA, Scholastic Bowl Tournament. I was grateful to the IHSA for holding the tournament. I am glad that many supporters of the IHSA are here, as we have seen the great things that the IHSA can do.
As head of the coaches association for ten years, I chaired a committee with representatives from all over the state. Working together, we developed programs that benefited students all over Illinois. In the past ten years, we started an Awards Banquet, a Coaches Hall of Fame, Novice Tournaments, a Grant program for underfunded teams, and an annual conference we call SchoBowlFest. Our committee worked hard to forge a consensus to improve our activity in ways that benefit Illinois students.
Our coaches association also supported the IHSA. We sent messages to all coaches, including nonmembers of the coaches association, explaining how to submit records and encouraging attendance at Seeding Meetings. We contacted IHSA Sectional hosts with sample letters to send to teams in their Sectional. We wrote a Moderator Test that the IHSA used to screen moderators for the State Finals. We provided feedback when the IHSA updated its Rule Book and Case Manual. We gave free advertising to the IHSA in our newsletter. I was devoted to serving the IHSA Tournament to the best of my abilities.
I stepped down from coaching in 2011 after 17 years because I believed that I could do more to support Scholastic Bowl without being a coach. I worked as an editor for the IHSA in 2012 and, following problems with the questions that year, was promoted so that I could have a bigger impact on the 2013 IHSA Tournament. The feedback I received was positive. I was making very little money, but I was happy to work hard because I believed in what I was doing.
However, at the end of January 2013, things suddenly started going badly. One of the science questions I was editing was on a topic I knew little about. I copied and pasted the question into google to learn more about it. I was surprised to find that much of the wording in the question exactly matched the wording on a website used to study for tests. I wrote a replacement question and explained the problem to the Head Editor, expecting her to be as bothered as I was and to replace the question. She ran it by the Science Editor, who said that he usually is against lifting quotes but thought it would be acceptable for this question. Six weeks later, the question was used in the IHSA Scholastic Bowl Tournament. The Science Editor has since apologized. Many months later, the IHSA admitted that the question was plagiarized and should not have been used. Oddly, the IHSA claims that the Head Editor now realizes that it was plagiarized and should not have been used, but the Head Editor herself still maintains that no plagiarized questions were approved for use in the State Tournament.
Over the next several weeks, I found a few more examples of plagiarized questions, approximately ten in all. Whenever I found a plagiarized question, I would report it to the Head Editor, who usually would say that it wasn’t actual plagiarism, but she would accept changes anyways based on my recommendations.
The day before IHSA Regionals, I found another case of plagiarism. I contacted the Head Editor to see if she wanted to change it. She stated that the question was fine and that there was no reason to change it. The question was used.
I simply could not accept what was happening. If students plagiarize, they are punished. In fact, students who plagiarize can be removed from extracurricular activities such as Scholastic Bowl. I believed that the plagiarism was incompatible with the spirit and rules of the IHSA.
While the safe action would have been staying quiet, I knew that the IHSA should and could do better. I decided to tell the Tournament Director, an IHSA Assistant Executive Director. I sent him an email describing the problem, CCing some of my school administrators because I had been told when I was a coach that I should let my supervisors know when I contact the IHSA over something controversial. Most of my letter consisted of placing quotations from the questions side by side with quotations from various internet sources so that the plagiarism is obvious. Some of you have seen my letter, and I am happy to share it with all of you.
I expected the IHSA to use this incident as an opportunity to improve, but I was wrong. In fact, the IHSA’s reaction to my letter has done considerable harm to their Scholastic Bowl Tournament.
The IHSA responded by firing me as an editor and official. They stated that they disagreed with my opinion as to whether plagiarism had taken place. I have never received an explanation as to why they believed that my opinion was wrong then or why they later changed their mind. They also stated that my timing was wrong. In the message, which was cc’d to my supervisors at my full-time job, the IHSA Administrator also stated that I had put my personal needs ahead of the IHSA and that I had not demonstrated common respect. After sending the email, the IHSA Administrator called an administrator where I teach. The administrator at my school told me that the IHSA Administrator was angry and barely gave her a chance to speak. My principal later called the IHSA Administrator, and he told me that the IHSA Administrator made it very clear to my principal that the IHSA does not like me.
After I was fired, a different moderator found another plagiarized question. Knowing what had happened to me, he did not report it, and the plagiarized question was then used at the IHSA State Championship.
Though the IHSA now admits that they used plagiarized questions and has taken some action to correct the problem, the people who acted stand by their actions. The Head Editor stands by her editing, the IHSA Administrator stands by his handling of my situation, and the IHSA stands by both of them. My messages to the IHSA Executive Director and IHSA Board did not receive replies.
As an educator, I believe in improvement and growth. I also place a high priority on providing the best experiences we can for our students. I hope that the IHSA can improve and grow, and I hope that next year’s students will get a better tournament than this year’s students did.
Jonah Greenthal's testimony
I have been involved in scholastic bowl for nearly a decade. I started out as a player, with David as my coach. We won the IHSA state championship in 2007 and it was one of the proudest moments of my life. I was and am grateful to the IHSA for the opportunity.
After I graduated high school, the IHSA hired me as a contractor to write questions for its scholastic bowl tournament. Once I started, I was dismayed by what I found behind the scenes. The head editor of the process, although well-intentioned, was and is not aware of the standards for quality scholastic bowl questions that players had come to expect, and was unwilling to accept suggestions from people who were. Despite being given advice by experts year after year, she held on to ideas that had been obsolete for a long time. We would later see that she was similarly unaware of the universal academic standards defining plagiarism; as David mentioned, she has continued to deny that plagiarized questions were ever used.
David told you about his saga in which he was fired. I am here in part because of that situation, in which my friend, colleague, and mentor — a man of unimpeachable ethics and politeness — was unjustly fired for reporting an ethical problem. But I am also here because what happened to David parallels other issues that have come up in how the IHSA handles our activity, which may be a symptom of a systemic problem in which the IHSA prioritizes the welfare of students, coaches, and officials lower than it prioritizes old ways of thinking.
Year after year, many players and coaches complain about the questions — the single most important part of a scholastic bowl match. The same editor remains in place, and the questions remain far inferior to those that teams play at invitational tournaments throughout the year. The complaints are ignored, and there is no way to get them listened to. In 2012 there were so many problems with the questions that the IHSA had to send out a three-page list of errata on the day of regionals, which many hosts did not get because it was Casimir Pulaski Day, and at the state finals that year, there were numbers of questions that did not meet the IHSA’s own published rules. What was the IHSA’s response? They re-hired the editor. In 2013, the IHSA used plagiarized questions; they later admitted it, but the head editor continues to deny it. What was the IHSA’s response? They re-hired the editor. In 2014, there were a record number of complaints about the questions. One player — from Bloomington, of all places, where the IHSA is headquartered — referred to the tournament as a “travesty”. What was the IHSA’s response? They re-hired the head editor and gave her an award.
A few years ago the IHSA switched the finals from a Saturday to a Friday. As a result, a couple hundred students who are highly invested in academic pursuits must miss school. Scholastic bowl is the only one-day state final held on a school day. Why did they do this? The IHSA told its scholastic bowl advisory committee that Peoria hotels were frustrated that scholastic bowl fans wanted to rent rooms for only one night while basketball fans wanted two nights, so the hotels wanted scholastic bowl to stay there on a night when there were fewer basketball fans. The IHSA put lining the pockets of hotels ahead of the interests of the students of Illinois. As a result, students miss out on their education, and parents can seldom see their children in an event that is the highlight of many of their high school experiences.
Every year the officials meet the day before the tournament to go over the questions and fix problems with them; these meetings can last 10 hours, which costs the IHSA money to pay for a conference room and for the officials’ lodging in Peoria. A friend of mine is widely considered one of the best scholastic bowl officials in Illinois. He worked the IHSA finals for two years, and when he pointed out that other tournaments don’t need 10-hour meetings because they hire writers and editors who write questions that don’t need major fixing, and that the IHSA could thus do a better job and save money, Ron McGraw fired him.
Furthermore, the IHSA finals are held at the Peoria Civic Center because it is convenient for IHSA officials’ wish to attend the simultaneous basketball tournament. For many years the tournament was held at a high school, which provides the necessary quiet environment for our activity. Now matches are disturbed by the noise from basketball fans and pep bands, and are subject to draconian policies about bringing in food; when a vegan player pointed out that the lunch buffet had no options for him, Ron McGraw suggested that probably no one would notice if he brought in a “pocket full of veggies”. What works for basketball does not work for scholastic bowl, but the IHSA wants to shoehorn scholastic bowl into its convenience instead of what makes sense for the students.
The running theme here is that the IHSA prioritizes things that have nothing to do with scholastic bowl when it decides how to run scholastic bowl. We can't expect administrators to know everything about every activity they run, but we can ask them to communicate with experts who have more regular contact with today’s Illinois students, and who can better gauge their needs. Right now the two scholastic bowl people whom the IHSA listens to have lost touch with the game as it is played today. The head official moderates at most a couple of matches a year, and one of the moderators at the state finals officiates none outside of the finals. The head editor is only familiar with 1990s’ question-writing standards. One of the key aspects of education is the need for ongoing professional development, but the IHSA prefers length of service and loyalty to seeking out excellence. This attitude drives out other potential contributors: I know of many highly skilled question writers who simply refuse to work with the IHSA because they are not interested in having their work be overseen by people whose abilities they cannot respect, and following David’s firing, an even stronger boycott arose among writers and officials. At least three of the longtime state finals moderators refused to return this year because of David’s firing. Sometimes the IHSA actively rebuffs participation: at the meeting of the scholastic bowl advisory committee this year, one member requested that someone from the coaches association be invited, and was told that that was “not going to happen”. I guess that’s better than the other thing they do when someone points out a problem: fire them.
Members of the committee, you and David and I are all here for the same ultimate reason: we want the students of Illinois to have excellent experiences in high school. It is my hope that the IHSA will turn its scholastic bowl offering into that excellent experience. The first step is to listen.
A few committee members asked questions that were insignificant and fairly irrelevant. Head editor Sister John Baricevic spoke briefly, saying essentially that she disagreed with David's and the dictionary's definition of plagiarism. IHSA Assistant Executive Director in charge of scholastic bowl (and other things) Ron McGraw started to speak twice but was cut off both times, first to discuss the need to move to a larger room and then to actually move to a larger room. He never actually got to say anything substantive. Reinstein and Greenthal repeated a summary of their testimony in the new room. Not much else was said about scholastic bowl; IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said that he had reached out to Reinstein to ask for a meeting, which was not true to Reinstein's knowledge (Reinstein had emailed Hickman and received no response), and Hickman also speculated that the IMSA team (that year's IHSA scholastic bowl class AA champions) really enjoyed the tournament.