Shelby County Commission candidate Sharon Webb took a portion of a Chalkbeat story and included it word-for-word in her response to a question in an election survey by Chalkbeat.
Webb’s verbatim response appears in a section of the questionnaire that asks commission candidates: “How would you describe Shelby County Schools’ relationship with the state-run Achievement School District? How, if at all, would you like to see that change?”
I describe their relationship as troubled. I believe strengthening their relationship would be pivotal so all of our schools can be great places of learning.
Tennessee’s achievement district started out as the cornerstone of the state’s strategy to improve low performing schools in 2012. It promised to vault the state’s 5 percent lowest-achieving schools to the top 25 percent within 5 years. But the district hasn’t produced large academic gains. It’s struggling to attract students and retain high-quality teachers. And local districts don’t like it because the state moved in and took over schools without input.
She submitted her questionnaire to Chalkbeat on June 1.
In an April 25 Chalkbeat story announcing Sharon Griffin as the new leader of the Achievement School District, reporter Caroline Bauman wrote:
Tennessee’s achievement district started out as the cornerstone of the state’s strategy to improve low performing schools in 2012. It promised to vault the state’s 5 percent of lowest-achieving schools to the top 25 percent within five years. But the district hasn’t produced large academic gains. It’s struggling to attract students and retain high-quality teachers. And local districts don’t like it because the state moved in and took over schools without input.
Webb, a pastor and former Memphis City Schools board member, did not credit Chalkbeat or Bauman for the section of the story she used in her response. The plagiarism was discovered during the editing of the questionnaires when Bauman recognized her own words.
In an interview later, Webb was apologetic and said she never intended to plagiarize anyone.
“What I did, I researched it. I went online and researched it. I didn’t call myself using plagiarism,” she said. “That was not my intent. I was just answering the question based on research that I had found.”
Plagiarism in the era of being able to easily research, and copy and paste information through the internet is becoming increasingly common, especially among students, said Jonathan Bailey, owner of the copyright and plagiarism consulting firm, CopyByte.
“There are people out there who believe that if it’s on the internet it’s public domain and they can do whatever the heck they want to with it. And that is just untrue,” Bailey said.
“Much of what is on the internet is copyright protected, and even if it is not, when you take credit for words and ideas from other people, it’s plagiarism.” He added that even though Shakespeare is out of copyright, if someone claimed they wrote Hamlet, they would be a plagiarist.
Bailey noted that even copying a few sentences or a couple paragraphs without giving credit is plagiarism.
Chalkbeat reviewed the responses of the other commission candidates, as well as those of school board candidates, using the same search method. That analysis did not turn up similar findings as with Webb.
Asked if she thought she should have attributed the comments to Chalkbeat, Webb said, “I didn’t attribute it to them. I could have reworded it. I could have said, ‘based on blah blah blah,’ but no, I didn’t intend on it being plagiarism.
“But I know this, from now on I’ll put, ‘according to blah blah blah’ because I don’t want anybody to think I’m trying to cheat or anything because that’s not who I am.”
Chalkbeat has removed the copied portion of Webb’s response from its 2018 election guide. However, Webb had suggested that the comments remain, but instead attributed to Chalkbeat.