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Young people cheating a bit less these days, report finds

Cheating, lying and stealing among American students are all less prevalent nowadays, according to a new report.

The 2012 "Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth" suggests that young people's morals have improved in recent years. The survey, conducted every two years by the Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute of Ethics, found that 99 percent of the 23,000 high school students sampled say they believe "it is very important to have good moral character."

The results found 51 percent of students in 2012 admitted they cheated on an exam in the past year, which is down from 59 percent in 2010. The percentage of students admitting they've copied another's homework dropped by two points in the past couple years.


"Changes in children’s behavior of this magnitude suggest a major shift in parenting and school involvement in issues of honesty and character," Michael Josephson, founder and president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics, said in a statement. "Though there is still far too much cheating, lying and stealing, I think we have turned the corner."

Related: Feds say teachers hired stand-in to take their certification tests

The survey also suggest there are fewer Pinocchios: Fifty-five percent of students in 2012 say they've lied to a teacher in the past year about something significant, compared with 61 percent in 2010.

Students admitting they stole something from a store in the past year fell seven percentage points in the last two years, to 20 percent in 2012.

Through hidden cameras, a few parents find out if their kids are among the 85 percent of high school students who admit to getting a little extra help. TODAY's Natalie Morales reports.

While Josephson believes the results are "a small ray of sunshine shining through lots of dark clouds," this report comes in the midst of a number of recent cheating scandals among students a little bit older.

At least 78 Air Force Academy cadets have been accused of cheating on an online calculus test by allegedly getting help during the exam from a website.

Even the Ivy League has not been immune to moral lapses. It was recently reported that dozens of students at Harvard University were being investigated for possibly sharing answers or plagiarizing on a final exam.

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A lot of young people cheat because they're under pressure to get ahead and succeed, according to David Callahan, senior fellow at New York City-based public policy center Demos.

"Students are worried about getting left behind in this economy," said Callahan, who's also author of "The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Do Well."

In fact, 45 percent of the boys and 28 percent of the girls in the Josephson survey believe that "a person has to lie and cheat at least occasionally in order to succeed."

"It’s still a big problem," Callahan told NBC News. "There’s been a decline, but it’s not a huge decline."

Top New York City public school Stuyvesant High is investigating accusations that up to 70 students may have used cellphones to cheat on a major exam. ­NBC's chief education correspondent Rehema Ellis reports.

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