The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"The schools ain't what they used to be and never was."...  ...Will Rogers.

Commentary of the Day - June 22, 2008: Time to Add Basket Weaving as a Course.  Guest commentary by Ben Baker.

A South Georgia Board of Education recently considered a policy that would set the minimum grade for averaging purposes at 60.  In this particular school system anything below a 70 is considered a failing grade, so for transcript and report card purposes no grade below 60 could be awarded.

At the second meeting where the issue was up for discussion and a vote the superintendent withdrew the proposal, saying he'd done it for "shock value" as a way to get people to pay attention to the subject and actually put some thought into what our school system is doing.

I believe he was more serious than he let on.

At the meeting where this was first brought up, he and school administrators argued passionately for this policy change. The superintendent also brought a number of PowerPoint slides to add emphasis to the discussion.  That's a lot of work to just get people to thinking about something.  It is, however, the amount of work someone will invest in something they genuinely want approved.  If this was done to spark discussion only, it's a rather childish way to treat the elected Board of Education (whether they need to be treated like kids is a different matter.)

The idea is that a mediocre student who is doing his best can pull a 60 up, when averaged with other grades, to a passing score.  Whereas the same student might not be able to do the same with a score of 20 or so.

"We're making it possible for them to overcome some bad circumstances," the superintendent said, according to the newspaper report of the meeting.

Educators who pushed this offered a variety of excuses (reasons) for this.  Kid has problems at home and shuts down a for a while.  Kid has a bad day.  Kid has issues.  Kid had a hard time with the subject to start with.  An administrator also said discipline problems come from bad grades.  Again from the newspaper -- [the admin] said some discipline problems come from some students who realize they are failing a class and no matter what they do, they can't pull the grade up to passing.  "Kids get a bad grade and they can't see any hope of pulling it back up so they turn to other things in the classroom," he said.

Again from the newspaper report -- "When you give a kid a zero, you are not giving the kid an option.  You try to give them an option.  Don't give them an option of zero" said an Elementary School assistant principal.  Well, if the student does not do any work at all, as happens all too frequently, they earned a zero according to real world standards.  Apparently the public education system feels differently.

Quoting from the newspaper report -- "This helps the marginal kids," said a middle school principal.  Without using names, he said one student at the middle school will have to earn a 126 in order to pass because of that student's present low grades.

The minimum grade of 60 has been an unofficial policy for a while, at least at the elementary school.  The idea there is to pass the kids on to the middle school and let the middle school worry about educating them.  At least that's what happens to students who fail miserable in 5th grade both in academics and on the standardized tests.

At no time were the ideas "extra credit work" or "extra study" or "extra instruction" ever mentioned by administrators during the grades discussion.

Creative grading, such as leaving out a test score now and then, was mentioned but only where good students were concerned.  It was pointed out with a minimum averaging score, a good student could blow off a test and still pull the grade up.

"Not every score has to count," said one administrator.

The same policy could be applied to a kid struggling, but doing his best.  The middle school principal said -- students who opt to not do the work are kept in and made to do the work later on.  He said a zero is not an option any more.

At the same time our educators beat the drum of "Getting Kids Ready For The Real World."  The superintendent even said this would put the school system more in line with the grading scheme in colleges.

Really?  When did that start happening?  That could explain why so many college grads are idiots these days.  When I was in college if I flunked a test, I got the grade I earned.  Got that?  I earned the grade.  No one gave me anything (except for Music 101 which I should have flunked but the instructor thought I had dirt on him and he passed me out of fear.)

That students should get a second chance is admirable.  In college I seriously bombed a math 101 test  (I am a marginal math student).  The instructor pulled me aside, gave me some very welcome extra help and let me take a different test on the same subject, which I then aced.  She knew I was trying and helped me to succeed.

That's what teachers are supposed to do!

Reading again from the newspaper account -- "Will a lower grade not make anyone more prepared for college?" said one board member.  He did not receive a direct answer.

"You go to college and make a 40. They are not going to give you a 60," another board member said.  "In every class I had, they averaged out the grades."

The second board member also asked a question similar to what the first board member asked: "This will make them better prepared for college?  Are you just passing them along?"

"We're not talking about HOPE Scholars," the superintendent said. -- HOPE is a Georgia lottery funded program which pays for college for Georgia residents who maintain at least a B average.  All tuition and lab fees are covered and a substantial part of the cost of books is covered by HOPE.

"You've got some brighter kids who will say I'm not going to study and I'll take a zero," a board member said.  He did not receive a direct reply.

As an employer, I am certainly willing to give my employees a chance.  If they really want to succeed, I will help them.  If they are having a bad day, I make allowances.  If they are having a bad few weeks (as was mentioned in the School Board meeting) they need to decide what they are going to do or I will have to decide for them.

Business and industry do not have a "few weeks" to let someone get straightened out while on the job.  You can take the time off and do it.  If your work is suffering, you need to be elsewhere.

Yes. I have fired people.  Examples -- Show up stoned out of your gourd, you're gone.  Don't come to work for three days and I find out you're laying by a pool drinking beer, you're gone.  Don't do the job, you're gone.  Start a fight in the middle of work, a fist-thumping fight, you're gone.  Cuss at me, you're gone.

But our school system is trying to tell our students "If you fail a few times, it's OK because you can still pull your grades up."  Our school system is telling kids to lay out, drink beer, get stoned and don't worry about your vocabulary because your boss will let it slide.

I also note my brother, an English teacher a few counties away, was recently given an unsatisfactory review for his teaching performance at a public high school.  He failed too many students.  He said he flunked them because they didn't do the work.  Did not do it.  My brother, being the kind of student he is, would have passed them if they had done their best to do the work -- whether he agreed with their work or not (it was English lit), was irrelevant.  Explain your point as best you can and you got the passing grade.  Period.  He particularly delights in students who can take an opposing view to his and logically back it up.  They get As.

But they did not do the work.

According to our educators, it is not the student's fault.  So instead of zeros, give 'em a passing grade or a grade which is failing but that they can still average to passing with a few other passing grades.

Yep.  That prepares 'em for the real world.

This is what my brother is going to do from now on, pass 'em -- that is.  "It's not my job to prepare 'em for the real world," he said.

We need to teach basket weaving in our schools, because we're going to need one freakin' huge hand-basket for the journey our educators have booked us on.

2008, Ben Baker.
Ben Baker is the editor of The Wiregrass Farmer newspaper, the official newspaper for Turner County Georgia. He has two children, one in special education, enrolled in the public school system there and has had to fight with administrators on occasion regarding his child's special education needs.

The Irascible Professor comments: Here at Krispy Kreme U. we have a repetition of courses policy, which allows a student to take a course over and replace an old failing grade with the new passing grade on his or her transcript.  The policy includes a 16 semester-unit limit.  Beyond that the new grade is averaged with the old one.  The IP is not sure such a policy would work a the K-12 level, but it does have the virtue that the student at least has to show some mastery of the subject before receiving a break on his or her overall grade point average.

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© 2008 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
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