If the latest report card on American youth is any indication, student ethics are improving.

For the first time in a decade, the biennial survey on student behavior shows that lying, cheating, and stealing are on the decline. The survey of 23,000 students conducted since 1992 by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics covers students at charter, public, and private schools.

“It’s a small ray of sunshine through lots of dark clouds,” said founder Michael Josephson on the Institute web site.

Some of the highlights:

  • Students who admitted cheating on an exam dropped to 51% in 2012 from 59% in 2010.
  • Students who admitted lying to a teacher about something significant dropped to 55% from 61%.
  • Students who admitted lying to their parents dropped to 76% from 80%.
  • Students who admitted stealing something from a store in the past year dropped to 20% from 27%.

Within the data set, however, are some troubling gender gaps.

Boys were nearly twice as likely to steal from a friend than girls (19% v. 10%).

Almost half of boys (45%) believe that “a person has to lie and cheat at least occasionally in order to succeed.” Only 28% of girls held that same belief.

Boys (20%) were twice as likely as girls (10%) to believe “it is not cheating if everyone is doing it.” Interestingly, the answer to this question did not change much if the students were in honors/AP classes or in varsity athletics.

Girls are much more likely to volunteer (70% v. 55%).

Both genders report that “being physically attractive” is important (91% boys and 90% girls), although, interestingly, “being popular” is much more important to boys (65%) than girls (48%).

You can see the full report here.