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September 10, 2001

The Wonder Years: Homework Is Free Online


With summer over and school in full swing, Kenneth Sahr is finding the faltering economy is having little impact on demand for his service.

More than 10,000 people visit his site each day, and many come back several times a week. Page views have reached two million a month, with demand for this site rising at an annual rate of 10 percent. And if he was not already notorious enough, late last month Mr. Sahr embarked on a publicity campaign to attract even more attention to his Web site.

Mr. Sahr runs, a Web site for students that for the last five years has offered essays, book reports, term papers and even doctoral dissertations for easy downloading. Some 5,000 pieces of homework posted directly on the site are available free, but the site also links to other term paper sites that charge as much as $8.95 a page. (Custom paper sites charge as much as $20 a page.)

Since the site went into operation in 1996, Mr. Sahr has become perhaps the most public and in some quarters, most reviled symbol of the online homework industry, aggressively promoting his venture while the educational community bemoans the growing problem of plagiarism. One of the site's mottos is "Where the men are men and the teachers are nervous."

Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times
The site's owners, Kenneth Sahr, left, and Yasha Harari, hold a business meeting on a Tel Aviv beach. Their site, which warns of the quality of the homework up for grabs, still draws two million page views a month.

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Critics point to statistics that indicate plagiarism is on the rise, abetted by Web sites like Mr. Sahr's.

One watchdog group, Plagiarism .org, has a service called TurnItIn .com, which enables teachers to submit student papers to check for evidence of cribbing. The group, based in Berkeley, Calif., estimates that fully one-third of the high-school papers it examines contain at least some material copied from Internet pages.

Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University and founder of the Center for Academic Integrity (news/quote), says plagiarism from the Web is most rampant in high school. In a recent survey he conducted, nearly half of high school students admitted to having plagiarized from an online source to some extent.

Mr. Sahr said his customers ranged in age from about 12 to 25, most of them middle-school and high-school students. Of the 10,000 visitors to his site every day on average, he said, 8,000 are from the United States, 1,000 are Canadian and the remainder are from other countries. Anyone can log onto schoolsucks .com and download any of 5,000 free research papers on topics as diverse as the Magna Carta and encephalitis, sometimes even in Hebrew or French.

Rather than plagiarism, Mr. Sahr argues, what his site really offers students is a mixture of research and inspiration. The site helps intimidated students "get their feet wet," he said, providing bibliographies and research material. Besides, he insists, students would not use his Web site to plagiarize material because it would be too easy for teachers and professors to check the site themselves.

Mr. Sahr even offers a public-service defense of his business. The generally poor quality of the homework available for free on his site, he said, should send a red flag to educators that something is seriously wrong with today's schools.

"We're the connection," Mr. Sahr said. "This is the end result of our educational system."

Mr. Sahr said that he and his two partners, Yasha Harari and Nimrod Carmi, did not exercise quality control. Anything and everything gets posted, he said, except for the occasional violent essay or anything that proselytizes for a political cause. As a result, a student downloading an essay has no way of knowing if the paper received an A or an F. "We tell people, `You could be downloading garbage, and you probably are,' " Mr. Sahr said.

The Sahr site is only one of dozens of so-called digital term paper mills. But its database of free papers is widely considered one of the largest online, with students submitting 50 to 100 new ones each month. Cheater .com and (which also calls itself the "Evil House of Cheat") offer both free and for-pay papers, while most other sites charge by the page, in addition to accepting advertising.

The Sahr site features a dozen or so advertisers, including for-pay term paper sites, an online gambling business and eBay (news/quote). Mr. Sahr says the site has been profitable, in part, because it incurs very few expenses. He said he and his partners were the sole investors and intend to remain so.

The idea for the site came to Mr. Sahr when he was a journalism student at Miami International University, he said, and saw firsthand the "mediocrity" of the educational system. Mr. Sahr, who is 30 and holds dual American and Israeli citizenship, divides his time between Tel Aviv and Miami. The company was founded in Florida, but is now run from Israel, where it has developed a Hebrew language site of its own.

For Mr. Sahr and his partners, the question now is just how to capitalize on the current popularity of their brand. They are considering expanding the site to pick up the audience of some teen portal sites that have gone out of business, presumably by adding more youth-oriented material and community features.

"Students will listen to school, more than they will their parents," he said. "They feel free communicating here."

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