High School Diplomas

by Harry on February 17, 2004

This story about the inflation of high school diplomas simply states what anyone working in a US high school knows—graduation simply requires attendance plus a modicum of obedience. Failing that, it helps to have parents who are willing to make life sufficiently difficult for administrators and teachers that they will give you a passing grade anyway. There are multiple culprits. One is the ludicrous system of having classroom teachers be the sole assigners of grades. I spent Sunday watching two teachers spend 90 minutes preparing for a meeting one of them was having on Monday with a parent of a student. The sole purpose of the meeting was to negotiate over the grade. The teacher had assigned a B and the parent was not satisfied. In the end, the parent refused to be satisfied (having recalculated the grade herself) and is insisting on a meeting with the Principal. My prediction—the parent will win, because the Principal will think—‘this is a complete waste of my time, caving on this won’t make things any worse between me and the teacher, and it’ll get this p-i-t-a off my back’. Total waste—about 5 hours of school teachers and principal’s time. (I don’t care about the student’s or parent’s time—lets assume that harassing teachers is their hobby).

Of course, the parent has some right on her side. There’s an element of subjective judgment in how we grade assignments, in what weight we give them relative to each other, and finally in what thresholds we set for As, Bs, Cs, etc. What is ludicrous is giving the classroom teacher the power to make ALL those judgments. It simply sets up incentives for students and parents to pressure the teacher to raise the grades, wasting everyone’s time in the process. And, almost certainly, leading to grade inflation. If the judgment were made outside the classroom, by external graders, the classroom teacher’s grade would be predictive; and the incentive for the student and parent would be to cooperate with the teacher to ensure that the learning necessary for achieving the A actually occurs.

Update: so that you can see the urgency of this from the parent’s point of view, and how strong an incentive she has to do this I’ll quote mark’s eloquent comment which you’ll find again below:

1. The diploma itself is irrelevant, a basically worthless document.
2. The GPA is everything.
3. GPA is accumulated (for those not aware) from day 1 of high school, based on continual assessment as well as end of semester exam.
4. Initial college inquiries will be made based on a GPA derived from the first 5 semetesters of High school.
5. Homework is not marked equivalently – some assignments might gain 20 points, some 100 – A single major failure on the 100 point assessment could easily drag a GPA down .1 or .2 – A difficult number to make up over a short period of time. This could easily be the difference between acceptance and rejection by a college

{ 66 comments }

1

Rv. Agnos 02.17.04 at 6:24 pm

The question, though, is who cares that graduating from High School is so easy?

Are there lots of goodies that high school graduates can get that drop outs don’t?

Will one grade in one class in one semester change the student’s overall GPA? If it changes by 0.1, will that plus the non-negotiable SAT score affect the student’s college admission?

Unless the parents are willing to argue up a significant percentage of the student’s grades, the practical results will be negligible.

2

Robert Lyman 02.17.04 at 6:27 pm

If the judgment were made outside the classroom, by external graders…

That’s fine–sounds like a neat idea. But it’s been tried (sort of) by school systems with standardized statewide tests. The teachers (or their union) HATE the tests. The parents complain about the test when Johnny doesn’t get an A. And any “external grader” who wasn’t relying on a standardized test would probably get hassled by parents as much as anyone else.

So, nice idea in theory, but the practice doesn’t look promising for American jurisdictions, at least.

3

Joel B. 02.17.04 at 6:33 pm

Objectivity? Sounds almost Conservative…

4

tim 02.17.04 at 6:42 pm

Sorry – I’m a bit confused.

” In the end, the parent refused to be satisfied (having recalculated the grade herself) “

What does this mean? Did the parent count the points, calculate the percentage, and come up with a different number than the teacher? Or did the parent have a different evaluation of the student’s work?

In the former case, one hopes that a pencil, some paper, and perhaps an adding machine could lead to a meeting of the minds.

In the latter case, I suppose a great deal depends on the student material in question. Surely the principal can handle this like the NFL. If the replay shows some obviously correct answers marked incorrectly, fix them and adjust the grade. If there’s no clear evidence from the booth, the ruling on the field stands.

5

Russell Arben Fox 02.17.04 at 6:52 pm

Robert, not all teachers and parents have been uniformally opposed to standardized tests, whether those imposed in the wake of Bush’s education legislation or those generated by state or local jurisdictions. (You’re right that American teacher unions have been almost uniformally opposed though.) As Nicholas Lemman has written about at length, standardized approaches to education are a godsend in poorer districts, where poverty, joblessness, lousy teacher salaries and a culture of rebellion and malcontentment has resulted in abyssmal schools. In such environments, quite a few parents and teachers have expressed great enthusiasm for iron-clad curriculums and externally imposed standards: it gives the parents a life-line to being able to judge what, if anything, their child is learning, and it gives the teachers a hard-line they can fall back on and make demands in regards to when everything else is going to hell. Generally speaking, those who have complained most about standardized testing and other similar reforms are middle and upper-middle-class parents: the school districts they are able to get into usually have decent enough educational environments that “creativity” doesn’t seem like a waste of time, not to mention the fact that it is usually such parents that actually have the time, energy and inclination to fight over a mostly meaningless B-to-A grade change….

6

Robert Lyman 02.17.04 at 7:05 pm

I agree with everything Russell said. My point wasn’t that testing or strict curriculums are a bad idea, just that they won’t solve the problem Harry is complaining about, and if they did, they would probably be too unpopular politically to sustain.

7

Redshift 02.17.04 at 7:22 pm

I’m afraid I have to take issue with the term ‘inflation’. It implies a progression, and nothing presented here or in the article substantiates that a high school diploma is more a certificate of attendance than it ever was. Among the factors discussed, the only one that might possibly be getting worse (and there’s only anecdotal evidence for that) is parents who are more willing to make trouble to ensure that their kids get a good grade, whether they deserve it or not. (Parents who make trouble to ensure their kids learn more, or get the grade they deserve, by definition don’t contribute to “inflation”.)

From what I’ve seen, public schools are the most persistent targets of the misapprehension that “problems exist” equates to “things are getting worse,” often fueled by politicians who benefit from it.

8

Thomas R. 02.17.04 at 7:30 pm

A similar thing is happening in South Africa, albeit on a much larger scale. Teachers have more of a say in setting school-leavers’ marks under a new system of “continuous assessment”. Before, matric marks were determined only in the final (provincial) exams (except for things like English oral marks, which were tested by schools).

After the “reforms” were instituted, the matriculation pass-rate jumped from 48.9% in 1999 to 73.3% in 2003.

Among other things, black students get 5% added automatically to their matric marks.

The school-leaving certificate (which was not worth much anyway) has been rendered utterly worthless.

9

Ken 02.17.04 at 7:35 pm

“The question, though, is who cares that graduating from High School is so easy?”

The graduates that have to spend four more years and thousands of dollars to prove to potential employers that they aren’t complete morons. If high school diplomas weren’t dispensed like candy to anyone who warmed a chair for four years, a lot of these people could start decent careers and even families when they reach adulthood, rather than four years later.

“Are there lots of goodies that high school graduates can get that drop outs don’t?”

There ought to be, but there aren’t, because high school diplomas don’t signal much of anything in the way of intelligence, ability, or achievement.

10

harry 02.17.04 at 7:47 pm

Tim — the missing detail is this. The student disputes whether a particular assignment was handed in. so there were two calculations — one assuming it got an F (missing) the other assuming it got the average of her other grades. On the latter, more generous, calculation, she would be 1% less than the threshold for an A. But, of course, the parent is right (for the reasons I mentioned) to think that is, in principle, negotiable.

redshift — you’re right and I’m wrong. The evidence simply isn’t there (anywhere, on my understanding) to support claims of graduation inflation. The mechanism I describe, though, would lead one to expect perpetual grade inflation, absent countervailing mechanisms. But you were right, I spoke carelessly. The evidence I gave, too, is anecdotal: its an anecdote you will hear from every single teacher and administrator who lives with the system, though. But, my aim was to point out that the system provides an incentive (and a pretty strong one) for such behaviour.

Yes, Robert, I realise there are feasibility issues in the American context, and despite agreeing with you and Russell that standards and testing can have benefits for lots of less advantaged schools, I’m not a big fan SAT-style tests. But AP is on growing, and the IB is a fine exam, which will probably become more popular as the undergraduate education market globalises. I also have a faint bit of sympathy for unions who resist apparently sensible changes on the grounds that they will be implemented and monitored by ill-willed incompetents. The lack of oversight of what goes on in the classroom by managers in many American schools is appalling — but given the competences of the actual management personnel in place it may be better that they leave classrooms alone.

11

Rv. Agnos 02.17.04 at 8:11 pm

“The graduates that have to spend four more years and thousands of dollars to prove to potential employers that they aren’t complete morons. If high school diplomas weren’t dispensed like candy to anyone who warmed a chair for four years, a lot of these people could start decent careers and even families when they reach adulthood, rather than four years later.”

Graduates with straight-A’s from my hometown’s top tier school district’s public high school (with no grade inflation) still can’t get a job worth anything. They are more likely to get into a high-ranked private college, or could simply enroll at Rutgers without breaking a sweat, but the fact that an 4.0 GPA from the school “means something” does not mean it is worth anything on the job market.

12

Rv. Agnos 02.17.04 at 8:12 pm

“The graduates that have to spend four more years and thousands of dollars to prove to potential employers that they aren’t complete morons. If high school diplomas weren’t dispensed like candy to anyone who warmed a chair for four years, a lot of these people could start decent careers and even families when they reach adulthood, rather than four years later.”

Graduates with straight-A’s from my hometown’s top tier school district’s public high school (with no grade inflation) still can’t get a job worth anything. They are more likely to get into a high-ranked private college, or could simply enroll at Rutgers without breaking a sweat, but the fact that an 4.0 GPA from the school “means something” does not mean it is worth anything on the job market.

13

Rv. Agnos 02.17.04 at 8:12 pm

“The graduates that have to spend four more years and thousands of dollars to prove to potential employers that they aren’t complete morons. If high school diplomas weren’t dispensed like candy to anyone who warmed a chair for four years, a lot of these people could start decent careers and even families when they reach adulthood, rather than four years later.”

Graduates with straight-A’s from my hometown’s top tier school district’s public high school (with no grade inflation) still can’t get a job worth anything. They are more likely to get into a high-ranked private college, or could simply enroll at Rutgers without breaking a sweat, but the fact that an 4.0 GPA from the school “means something” does not mean it is worth anything on the job market.

14

Rv. Agnos 02.17.04 at 8:14 pm

“The graduates that have to spend four more years and thousands of dollars to prove to potential employers that they aren’t complete morons. If high school diplomas weren’t dispensed like candy to anyone who warmed a chair for four years, a lot of these people could start decent careers and even families when they reach adulthood, rather than four years later.”

Graduates with straight-A’s from my hometown’s top tier school district’s public high school (with no grade inflation) still can’t get a job worth anything. They are more likely to get into a high-ranked private college, or could simply enroll at Rutgers without breaking a sweat, but the fact that an 4.0 GPA from the school “means something” does not mean it is worth anything on the job market.

15

Rv. Agnos 02.17.04 at 8:14 pm

“The graduates that have to spend four more years and thousands of dollars to prove to potential employers that they aren’t complete morons. If high school diplomas weren’t dispensed like candy to anyone who warmed a chair for four years, a lot of these people could start decent careers and even families when they reach adulthood, rather than four years later.”

Graduates with straight-A’s from my hometown’s top tier school district’s public high school (with no grade inflation) still can’t get a job worth anything. They are more likely to get into a high-ranked private college, or could simply enroll at Rutgers without breaking a sweat, but the fact that an 4.0 GPA from the school “means something” does not mean it is worth anything on the job market.

Employers want college graduates.

16

Mark 02.17.04 at 8:42 pm

As a parent of a 9th grader (First year of high school – 14 years old) heres my take on this.

1. The diploma itself is irrelevant, a basically worthless document.
2. The GPA is everything.
3. GPA is accumulated (for those not aware) from day 1 of high school, based on continual assessment as well as end of semester exam.
4. Initial college inquiries will be made based on a GPA derived from the first 5 semetesters of High school.
5. Homework is not marked equivalently – some assignments might gain 20 points, some 100 – A single major failure on the 100 point assessment could easily drag a GPA down .1 or .2 – A difficult number to make up over a short period of time. This could easily be the difference between acceptance and rejection by a college

5. Therefore any way in which a parent can drive up a GPA is fair game, and I am extremely sympathetic to this.

17

Redshift 02.17.04 at 9:03 pm

Harry — I may have sounded like I was coming down on you harder than I intended; my gripe is much more with the common run of criticism in this vein than with your analysis.

I agree that there are perverse incentives in the current system that encourage this sort of behavior, but I also think it has been encouraged by those who seek to undermine teachers’ authority for political reasons. Having seen the quality of standardized tests that have resulted from “accountability” movements in the recent past, and their perverse effects on the curriculum, I’m afraid I have little faith in their objectivity.

Developing effective tests is hard, and the political forces that are pushing for them often have a heavy anti-intellectual component, leading to test development being supervised by people who distrust experts in test design. Developing and scoring tests that effectively test knowledge, like the IB, is also expensive, and again, these tests are often pushed by politicians who aren’t inclined to spend the money to make it work. So instead we get easily computer-scored tests that emphasize rote memorization and warp the curriculum in that direction.

Perhaps I’m just cynical, but that’s my impression from the experience in Virginia, where I live.

I would be perfectly happy to see good tests as a component of mastery education (study with appropriate assistance until you pass the subject. ) That would be real education reform. But I don’t see that happening, and absent that, I’d rather not have a plan that passes off authority from teachers who at least are required to have certain qualifications and have some responsibility for the education of the students they’re judging, to tests and test designers who are rarely asked to provide either to the public.

18

Redshift 02.17.04 at 9:08 pm

Harry — I may have sounded like I was coming down on you harder than I intended; my gripe is much more with the common run of criticism in this vein than with your analysis.

I agree that there are perverse incentives in the current system that encourage this sort of behavior, but I also think it has been encouraged by those who seek to undermine teachers’ authority for political reasons. Having seen the quality of standardized tests that have resulted from “accountability” movements in the recent past, and their perverse effects on the curriculum, I’m afraid I have little faith in their objectivity.

Developing effective tests is hard, and the political forces that are pushing for them often have a heavy anti-intellectual component, leading to test development being supervised by people who distrust experts in test design. Developing and scoring tests that effectively test knowledge, like the IB, is also expensive, and again, these tests are often pushed by politicians who aren’t inclined to spend the money to make it work. So instead we get easily computer-scored tests that emphasize rote memorization and warp the curriculum in that direction.

Perhaps I’m just cynical, but that’s my impression from the experience in Virginia, where I live.

I would be perfectly happy to see good tests as a component of mastery education (study with appropriate assistance until you pass the subject. ) That would be real education reform. But I don’t see that happening, and absent that, I’d rather not have a plan that passes off authority from teachers who at least are required to have certain qualifications and have some responsibility for the education of the students they’re judging, to tests and test designers who are rarely asked to provide either to the public.

19

Redshift 02.17.04 at 9:11 pm

Sorry about the multiple posting — MT was being wonky, and the error message didn’t give any indication that the post had gone through.

20

tim 02.17.04 at 9:16 pm

“the missing detail is this. The student disputes whether a particular assignment was handed in.”

Thanks for the clarification. That is a complicated problem. On balance, if this is the teacher’s error, it seems the benefit of the doubt should go to the student. And yet, I have this “friend” who tried that trick successfully in high school a few times as an alternative to actually doing the assignment, so I’m inclined to doubt the teacher slipped up.

————

“any way in which a parent can drive up a GPA is fair game”

I have a friend who, upon getting his first teaching post, used to tell us he was preparing for this conversation with a coed looking for a way to drive up a GPA:
Coed enters office, skimpily dressed, hints suggestively at ‘favors’ for a better grade. Friend says, raising his eyebrow, “would you really do anything for a better grade?”
“Uh huh.”
“Anything??”
“Mmmm, yes.”
“Would you … study?”
(The conversation, to his dismay, did come around eventually, but he was too terrified to go with the script. “Um [stammer], I’m sorry, that’s the um, I mean, I can’t change the, um, no. Nothing. Sorry.”)

But I have to say, I find Mark’s comments disturbing. Ways which include tutoring, buying extra books, enforcing study time – any way a parent can improve a child’s *performance* seems to me fair game. But any other way to drive up a GPA? Threatening the teacher? Coercing the principal? Unleashing lawyers? I dunno, doesn’t sound like fair game to me. But I’m not the parent of a 14 yr. old, so my principles have yet to be tested.

21

tim 02.17.04 at 9:17 pm

“the missing detail is this. The student disputes whether a particular assignment was handed in.”

Thanks for the clarification. That is a complicated problem. On balance, if this is the teacher’s error, it seems the benefit of the doubt should go to the student. And yet, I have this “friend” who tried that trick successfully in high school a few times as an alternative to actually doing the assignment, so I’m inclined to doubt the teacher slipped up.

————

“any way in which a parent can drive up a GPA is fair game”

I have a friend who, upon getting his first teaching post, used to tell us he was preparing for this conversation with a coed looking for a way to drive up a GPA:
Coed enters office, skimpily dressed, hints suggestively at ‘favors’ for a better grade. Friend says, raising his eyebrow, “would you really do anything for a better grade?”
“Uh huh.”
“Anything??”
“Mmmm, yes.”
“Would you … study?”
(The conversation, to his dismay, did come around eventually, but he was too terrified to go with the script. “Um [stammer], I’m sorry, that’s the um, I mean, I can’t change the, um, no. Nothing. Sorry.”)

But I have to say, I find Mark’s comments disturbing. Ways which include tutoring, buying extra books, enforcing study time – any way a parent can improve a child’s *performance* seems to me fair game. But any other way to drive up a GPA? Threatening the teacher? Coercing the principal? Unleashing lawyers? I dunno, doesn’t sound like fair game to me. But I’m not the parent of a 14 yr. old, so my principles have yet to be tested.

22

Patrick Nielsen Hayden 02.17.04 at 9:22 pm

“Are there lots of goodies that high school graduates can get that drop outs don’t?”

Just as a data point, I dropped out of high school at age 16. From ages 18 to 24 I simplied lied to various white-collar employers, none of whom evidently ever checked. After that I started telling the truth, since I already had plenty of pertinent work experience.

I don’t know if this would still be possible, but I suspect so. The extent to which records are checked is much exaggerated.

(I also suspect my experience would have been considerably different if I hadn’t started out as a white middle-class male with decent speaking and writing skills.)

23

Andrew Boucher 02.17.04 at 9:40 pm

AP exams are reasonable, reasonably objective tests of knowledge in a particular subject. I suspect their importance for admission into the higher-ranked colleges will only increase.

24

Ilkka Kokkarinen 02.17.04 at 9:41 pm

This remound me why I will never again teach any group whose typical member is under 20 years old.

At least in the most important subjects, there should be annual standardized tests that determine the student grades. Or, so that the other ordinary schoolwork would still have some meaning, the standardized test could set an upper limit for the student’s grade, which would still be computed normally based on homework and ordinary exams.

Yes, there would be problems. But there probably wouldn’t be so many young adults graduating from high school with the reading and writing ability of a ten year old child.

Of course, as a long-range cure, North Americans might want to consider moving to an education system where only about half of the kids continue to high school, and the other half moves to either job market or trade schools. This would also calm down the high schools considerably and better prepare the students there for higher education.

25

Ruth 02.17.04 at 9:41 pm

A corrective to Thomas R’s remark, above (for anyone who didn’t check his link):

According to the article he cites, black students in South Africa don’t automatically get points added to their scores; rather, students *who are not native speakers of the examination languages* — English or Afrikaans — get a 5% bonus, to account for the disadvantages of being examined in a second language. Yes, basically everyone whose first language isn’t English or Afrikaans is going to be black — but the deficit corrected for is a linguistic one, not a racial one.

Whether or not this should be continued is another matter, of course. But language of instruction in South Africa’s still kind of a touchy subject, I would imagine…

26

Ruth 02.17.04 at 9:42 pm

A corrective to Thomas R’s remark, above (for anyone who didn’t check his link):

According to the article he cites, black students in South Africa don’t automatically get points added to their scores; rather, students *who are not native speakers of the examination languages* — English or Afrikaans — get a 5% bonus, to account for the disadvantages of being examined in a second language. Yes, basically everyone whose first language isn’t English or Afrikaans is going to be black — but the deficit corrected for is a linguistic one, not a racial one.

Whether or not this should be continued is another matter, of course. But language of instruction in South Africa’s still kind of a touchy subject, I would imagine…

27

Mark 02.17.04 at 9:43 pm

“I find Mark’s comments disturbing”.

They are disturbing, but let me disturb you further. My child is in a High School of 3,500 pupils, and frankly the teachers are so overloaded they have neither the time nor the inclination to deal in what I would describe as ‘traditional’ rectifications of academic problems, such as focused study, one-on-one and parent/teacher liason. The one time that I attempted to make a meeting with the relevant actors, of 3 who were requested to attend, 1 simply failed to turn up, and the other left after 15 minutes because of ‘other commitments’.

Let me say that I am not unsymapathetic to the plight of these teachers – My wife is a school librarian in the same school district, and the parents treat her like dirt.

My point perhaps, is that the traditional methods of educational improvement have broken down, and so parents have effectively implemented a ‘free market’ approach to grade enhancement, and let me tell you, when you have a 14 year old hanging around the house, with a possibility that they might not make college, you will do *anything* to prevent that happening…..

28

Ruth 02.17.04 at 9:43 pm

A corrective to Thomas R’s remark, above (for anyone who didn’t check his link):

According to the article he cites, black students in South Africa don’t automatically get points added to their scores; rather, students *who are not native speakers of the examination languages* — English or Afrikaans — get a 5% bonus, to account for the disadvantages of being examined in a second language. Yes, basically everyone whose first language isn’t English or Afrikaans is going to be black — but the deficit corrected for is a linguistic one, not a racial one.

Whether or not this should be continued is another matter, of course. But language of instruction in South Africa’s still kind of a touchy subject, I would imagine…

29

Grand Moff Texan 02.17.04 at 9:52 pm

Every teacher I know (which is quite a few) has a “WHY DO YOU HATE MY CHILD?!?!?” story each and every six weeks.

Student does no work.

Student gets no grades.

Grading period arrives.

Student panics, tells parent that the teacher has something against them.

A meeting is called [segue to post’s story].

Even if the child does 0 work, my school district will give them a 50.

The result is that millions in state-subsidized teacher training (also required by the state) is being thrown away. Parents will not stand for their students being evaluated on their merits, and students know it. Teachers are essentially being paid (peanuts) to be petulant consumers’ psychological punching bags. It’s called “consumer satisfaction.”
Standardized testing does nothing to address the problem. You might as well legislate that all defensive backs will run 4.4″ 40s.

Glad I don’t teach highschool.

Ultimately, this is a social problem. Teaching isn’t a respected profession (below college). After all, we used to let women do it. Add a consumer culture on top of that, in which certification entitles one to consume at a higher level, and anyone upholding educational standards becomes the enemy.

In slightly altered form, this is the battle between my state university and the high-dollar hicks of the legislature. We talk about standards, they blow populist bs at the general public (“But I PAID for that university!”) and we wind up with a mixed bag of too many students. (then, they cut our funding and steal money from our research funds, but don’t get me started).
The result is an inferior education, even for the good students.
Not that that’s any excuse for them…

30

limberwulf 02.17.04 at 10:00 pm

yes, rv. agnos, but perhaps that is because high school graduates are a dime a dozen. Its all about supply and demand. Even with college grads, getting an employee that is any good is often a shot in the dark. Some employers are starting to differentiate based on the school and the difficulty of the degree, just because they want to know that you accomplished something you had to work for. That is the true indicator of an employee’s ability.

Outside grading I think could help, but it needs to have some impact on the teachers themselves. not soley on the teachers, but teacher performance does need to be more measurable. I think that is a part of the reason for the resistance by the teachers unions. I have my issues with standardized tests, the overseer has too much potential for incompetence or bias, as mentioned by harry. There is also the issue of who sets the “standards”, and why do they set them at the said levels. I believe some people are better at certain things than others, so the standards would have to have some flexibility.

The bottom line is tho, that free rides dont help anyone. Giving a student that has not performed well a diploma not only cheapens the performance of those that worked hard, but it throws that kid that didnt work hard out into the world unprepared. Thats pretty cruel if you ask me.

31

Reimer Behrends 02.17.04 at 10:06 pm

I do wonder: Is the primary purpose of high school still to teach or is it simply to evaluate (i.e., put a student in at one end and spit a GPA out at the other)? Strangely enough, I’m getting the impression from this discussion that the actual process of teaching students and preparing them for adult life is considered secondary at best as long as the GPA works out.

32

Grand Moff Texan 02.17.04 at 10:13 pm

limberwulf:
Teachers are evaluated regularly. I don’t know what would make it more measurable, but student performance includes the additional element of student effort. That’s where the slippage is.
There is no political benefit, and potentially great political risk, in pointing this out to parents. That, and the great amount of money lobbed at politicians by the Big Business that is standardized testing, is why said testing is likely to be the only “solution” on offer for some time.
This arrangement will have to get much, much worse before the general population will demand a meaningful solution.

33

Mark 02.17.04 at 10:28 pm

Reimar,

I believe that’s a fair evaluation. For students who are not going on to college, there are no ‘life skills’ going on, except for perhaps an appreciation of the power of jock culture. For those who go on, the real learning begins at college.

34

Ruth 02.17.04 at 10:32 pm

A corrective to Thomas R’s remark, above (for anyone who didn’t check his link):

According to the article he cites, black students in South Africa don’t automatically get points added to their scores; rather, students *who are not native speakers of the examination languages* — English or Afrikaans — get a 5% bonus, to account for the disadvantages of being examined in a second language. Yes, basically everyone whose first language isn’t English or Afrikaans is going to be black — but the deficit corrected for is a linguistic one, not a racial one.

Whether or not this should be continued is another matter, of course. But language of instruction in South Africa’s still kind of a touchy subject, I would imagine…

35

limberwulf 02.17.04 at 10:39 pm

Teachers may be evaluated, but I have seen many situations in which teachers remain in place that do not perform well at all.

That said, I agree that student effort is most of the slip, and the enforcement of such effort rests on the parents. It rests even more firmly on the parents in the current culture of lawsuits wherein teachers are heavily restricted in their ability to maintain discipline in a classroom. Parents have the idea that they can release responsibilty for their children in the arena of school. They also have been removed from the direct costs involved, so they are more likely to develop an out of sight out of mind concept. They are also more likely to develop unrealistic demands on the teachers because they have little option to affect change or in sendign their children elsewhere. False promises by politicians dont help either. IMHO, the issues lie more with the system itself than with the teachers or the students.

36

Robert Lyman 02.17.04 at 10:56 pm

North Americans might want to consider moving to an education system where only about half of the kids continue to high school, and the other half moves to either job market or trade schools.

Well, it used to be that way, years ago, when high schools had shop class and vocational programs. Then we decided, collectively, that everyone should go to college, and that people who took auto mechanics classes were losers, so the vocational stuff took a hit in many places. But still, in some schools, there are multiple effective tiers with kids headed different places.

I’d point out that the multi-tier educational systems in Europe (actually I’m only really familiar with Germany) have a similar problem: the German government has decided that as many students as possible should go to college, so the kids at the “lower tier” vocational high schools (who are now relatively few compared to the college-bound) are stereotyped as losers and criminals (which reputation they unfortunatly often live up to), and can’t get jobs. Meanwhile, the college grads are struggling to get jobs as plumbers.

I don’t have any answers, just a lot of complaining.

37

A New York City High School Math Teacher 02.17.04 at 11:26 pm

Some comments from the trenches:

Sure, social perception of the credential now discounts it in favor of GPA as the measure of competency. This would not be a problem if the standards for high school diplomas were stricter and higher. And the standards for high school diplomas would be stricter and higher were it not for the pressure from parents and “student advocates” to release students from the requirements of proving competency and curriculum mastery.

In New York State, the results of the June 2003 Math A Regents set off a firestorm. The test was too hard, complained parents and students. Teachers were shocked by the rigor of the test, sayeth the commentariat. Loud grumbles and pressuring later, the passing score was set at a scaled score of 55, which corresponded to a raw score in the mid-forties out of a total possible score of eighty-five points.

This January, students taking the Math A regents, in order to score a scaled 55, necessary for local diploma credit, needed to get 28 points out of 85 points on the examination, according to the NYS Board of Regents.

This was the result of public pressure – the Regents were afraid of enforcing standards, truckled under, and now, to pass a test that says the student has had the equivalent of three semesters of high school algebra and geometry, a student must make the statistical average for guessing on multiple choice questions, and scribble mandatorily partially scorable ineffabilities on a long answer sheet.

And for that, our department got an 85 percent local-credit passing rate.

When I look for meaning in my job, this nonsense is what I find.

Want to talk about classroom grade-inflation? Talk about institutional standards grade inflation first, and then you’ll get sympathy from me.

Grade inflation happens when people want to mask inadequacies in the system. Parents are an interested party, because they want to shield their children from the pernicious effects of bad grades. Teachers and school administrators are an interested party, because they want to shield their jobs from the pernicious effects of aggregated bad grades. Bodies putatively interested in enforcing standards are an interested party, because they don’t want to be seen as falling down on their regulatory jobs.

And I have students incapable of single digit arithmetic-by-hand tracked by mandate into algebra courses that they must inevitably fail. I have a set curriculum that I must follow, which completely fails because my students can’t read above a second grade level, and I can’t do remedial math during class time because that would violate state law.

And at the end of things, students who score the statistical mean for guessing get passing grades in my course, by mandate of state law.

The problem is not with grade inflation by classroom teachers.

38

A New York City High School Math Teacher 02.17.04 at 11:26 pm

Some comments from the trenches:

Sure, social perception of the credential now discounts it in favor of GPA as the measure of competency. This would not be a problem if the standards for high school diplomas were stricter and higher. And the standards for high school diplomas would be stricter and higher were it not for the pressure from parents and “student advocates” to release students from the requirements of proving competency and curriculum mastery.

In New York State, the results of the June 2003 Math A Regents set off a firestorm. The test was too hard, complained parents and students. Teachers were shocked by the rigor of the test, sayeth the commentariat. Loud grumbles and pressuring later, the passing score was set at a scaled score of 55, which corresponded to a raw score in the mid-forties out of a total possible score of eighty-five points.

This January, students taking the Math A regents, in order to score a scaled 55, necessary for local diploma credit, needed to get 28 points out of 85 points on the examination, according to the NYS Board of Regents.

This was the result of public pressure – the Regents were afraid of enforcing standards, truckled under, and now, to pass a test that says the student has had the equivalent of three semesters of high school algebra and geometry, a student must make the statistical average for guessing on multiple choice questions, and scribble mandatorily partially scorable ineffabilities on a long answer sheet.

And for that, our department got an 85 percent local-credit passing rate.

When I look for meaning in my job, this nonsense is what I find.

Want to talk about classroom grade-inflation? Talk about institutional standards grade inflation first, and then you’ll get sympathy from me.

Grade inflation happens when people want to mask inadequacies in the system. Parents are an interested party, because they want to shield their children from the pernicious effects of bad grades. Teachers and school administrators are an interested party, because they want to shield their jobs from the pernicious effects of aggregated bad grades. Bodies putatively interested in enforcing standards are an interested party, because they don’t want to be seen as falling down on their regulatory jobs.

And I have students incapable of single digit arithmetic-by-hand tracked by mandate into algebra courses that they must inevitably fail. I have a set curriculum that I must follow, which completely fails because my students can’t read above a second grade level, and I can’t do remedial math during class time because that would violate state law.

And at the end of things, students who score the statistical mean for guessing get passing grades in my course, by mandate of state law.

The problem is not with grade inflation by classroom teachers.

39

A New York City High School Math Teacher 02.17.04 at 11:27 pm

Some comments from the trenches:

Sure, social perception of the credential now discounts it in favor of GPA as the measure of competency. This would not be a problem if the standards for high school diplomas were stricter and higher. And the standards for high school diplomas would be stricter and higher were it not for the pressure from parents and “student advocates” to release students from the requirements of proving competency and curriculum mastery.

In New York State, the results of the June 2003 Math A Regents set off a firestorm. The test was too hard, complained parents and students. Teachers were shocked by the rigor of the test, sayeth the commentariat. Loud grumbles and pressuring later, the passing score was set at a scaled score of 55, which corresponded to a raw score in the mid-forties out of a total possible score of eighty-five points.

This January, students taking the Math A regents, in order to score a scaled 55, necessary for local diploma credit, needed to get 28 points out of 85 points on the examination, according to the NYS Board of Regents.

This was the result of public pressure – the Regents were afraid of enforcing standards, truckled under, and now, to pass a test that says the student has had the equivalent of three semesters of high school algebra and geometry, a student must make the statistical average for guessing on multiple choice questions, and scribble mandatorily partially scorable ineffabilities on a long answer sheet.

And for that, our department got an 85 percent local-credit passing rate.

When I look for meaning in my job, this nonsense is what I find.

Want to talk about classroom grade-inflation? Talk about institutional standards grade inflation first, and then you’ll get sympathy from me.

Grade inflation happens when people want to mask inadequacies in the system. Parents are an interested party, because they want to shield their children from the pernicious effects of bad grades. Teachers and school administrators are an interested party, because they want to shield their jobs from the pernicious effects of aggregated bad grades. Bodies putatively interested in enforcing standards are an interested party, because they don’t want to be seen as falling down on their regulatory jobs.

And I have students incapable of single digit arithmetic-by-hand tracked by mandate into algebra courses that they must inevitably fail. I have a set curriculum that I must follow, which completely fails because my students can’t read above a second grade level, and I can’t do remedial math during class time because that would violate state law.

And at the end of things, students who score the statistical mean for guessing get passing grades in my course, by mandate of state law.

The problem is not with grade inflation by classroom teachers.

40

A New York City High School Math Teacher 02.17.04 at 11:28 pm

Some comments from the trenches:

Sure, social perception of the credential now discounts it in favor of GPA as the measure of competency. This would not be a problem if the standards for high school diplomas were stricter and higher. And the standards for high school diplomas would be stricter and higher were it not for the pressure from parents and “student advocates” to release students from the requirements of proving competency and curriculum mastery.

In New York State, the results of the June 2003 Math A Regents set off a firestorm. The test was too hard, complained parents and students. Teachers were shocked by the rigor of the test, sayeth the commentariat. Loud grumbles and pressuring later, the passing score was set at a scaled score of 55, which corresponded to a raw score in the mid-forties out of a total possible score of eighty-five points.

This January, students taking the Math A regents, in order to score a scaled 55, necessary for local diploma credit, needed to get 28 points out of 85 points on the examination, according to the NYS Board of Regents.

This was the result of public pressure – the Regents were afraid of enforcing standards, truckled under, and now, to pass a test that says the student has had the equivalent of three semesters of high school algebra and geometry, a student must make the statistical average for guessing on multiple choice questions, and scribble mandatorily partially scorable ineffabilities on a long answer sheet.

And for that, our department got an 85 percent local-credit passing rate.

When I look for meaning in my job, this nonsense is what I find.

Want to talk about classroom grade-inflation? Talk about institutional standards grade inflation first, and then you’ll get sympathy from me.

Grade inflation happens when people want to mask inadequacies in the system. Parents are an interested party, because they want to shield their children from the pernicious effects of bad grades. Teachers and school administrators are an interested party, because they want to shield their jobs from the pernicious effects of aggregated bad grades. Bodies putatively interested in enforcing standards are an interested party, because they don’t want to be seen as falling down on their regulatory jobs.

And I have students incapable of single digit arithmetic-by-hand tracked by mandate into algebra courses that they must inevitably fail. I have a set curriculum that I must follow, which completely fails because my students can’t read above a second grade level, and I can’t do remedial math during class time because that would violate state law.

And at the end of things, students who score the statistical mean for guessing get passing grades in my course, by mandate of state law.

The problem is not with grade inflation by classroom teachers.

41

cafl 02.18.04 at 12:53 am

You can sure tell that this blog is run by a bunch of academics.

The issue of whether work was turned in and applied to a grade is a sore point for me, because I have seen multiple teachers take work that my kids turned in in high school, lose the work, and then claim that the work was not done. While I can’t say that every single item was turned in, enough of the items were done on the computer (essays) or reviewed by me (mathematics) that I am pretty sure it isn’t my kids who are in the wrong. And as has been pointed out above, the difference of one grade level in a class (a->b) can make a difference in college admissions.

In my case, I haven’t gone in and argued the point myself, but rather asked my kids to find copies of the work where it exists and try to make a dispassionate case. I think the problem is that the classes are too large and the teachers have too much homework to grade. Those who are disorganized lose some of the backlog, then blame the kids. YMMV.

42

Xavier 02.18.04 at 1:55 am

The principal isn’t considering the long-term implications of giving into demands from parents. He is just encouraging other parents to do the same. The principal should adopt an absolute policy of not considering grade challenges from parents. Better yet, the principal should lower the kids’ grades when their parents complain. That would shut them up.

43

Mark 02.18.04 at 3:34 am

Xavier – I don’t think your suggestion is realistic. There are probably hundreds of *valid* grade challenges every year at my childs High School. The first time a denied valid challenge prevents a child reaching a specific college, is the day that a teacher is successfully sued. And don’t forget, the No Child Left Behind act is attempting to place a personal burden on teachers, for non-achievement of their students. No teacher is going to face the possibility of destitution for the sake of a B+ instead of a C-

44

John 02.18.04 at 4:33 am

As a student at a top tier college, I am not an unaffected case study in this circumstance.

Let the free market decide the value of a person’s education. It will decide regardless of your efforts, and realistic change in our educational system will never happen as the majority of Americans are far too compassionate to accept an education system based upon merit. My personal opinion is that those unable to succeed should be left in the dust.

Selective colleges have the mobility to adapt to the inflation of grades, and have done so. Every student at my college had excellent, if not perfect, grades in high school. Other qualities distinguished them from their classmates: test scores, ap scores, and extracurriculars.

I do not believe grade inflation has affected the top colleges to the extent that their diplomas have become meaningless.

There is no “right” to work. People will continue to try to improve their chances in the job market, and educational inflation is the inevitable result.

Ultimately, what harm is done? HS diplomas are meaningless — so what? You and your child’s employability is no concern of mine.

The market will correct for this inflation. Public policy is ultimately ineffectual. The only harm done is to the rich and the corporations of America, who foot the bill for public education (anyone who wishes to argue about pays most of the taxes in America is free to show their stupidity. That the rich pay more is statistical fact, and a natural result of wealth. Public schools in rich towns are better because of more lucrative property taxes). Oh no! Not another form of expensive entitlement! And one even less effective than SS and Medicare. While dramatic change in our public education system could be beneficial, the current system is not all that harmful, and such change does not really need to happen, as if it could in the first place.

You can’t help those who can’t help themselves. Let the weak fail, and celebrate those with ability. The market does exactly this, and until society does, problems such as this educational inflation will continue to arise.

And to teachers: I have exactly no pity for you. You chose your job, and you did so aware of how hopeless and awful your situation would be. If you weren’t aware, then you have been justly rewarded for your ignorance. Every time one of my classmates talks about becoming a teacher, I supress a smug grin. I can imagine nothing less fulfilling and satisfying than wasting one’s mind trying to teach dolts. At least at the college level, some of your students may reward you with their honest interest in the subject matter.

45

A New York City High School Math Teacher 02.18.04 at 5:55 am

First, light:

Classroom grade inflation is an artifact of lowered performance and grade expectations. Parents complaining about the punitive differences between B+’s and A-‘s for little Suzie had better be careful what they wish for – strict, objective grade standards ought to be stringent, to have teeth. Without very good evidence to the contrary, grades should not be appealable.

In other words – the kids who failed last years Regents *should* have failed.

Then, heat:

Ah, a groundnut pipes up from Henry Ward Beecher’s liberal arts college on the poutine-taiga-lobster roll frontier.

And to teachers: I have exactly no pity for you. You chose your job, and you did so aware of how hopeless and awful your situation would be. If you weren’t aware, then you have been justly rewarded for your ignorance. Every time one of my classmates talks about becoming a teacher, I supress a smug grin. I can imagine nothing less fulfilling and satisfying than wasting one’s mind trying to teach dolts. At least at the college level, some of your students may reward you with their honest interest in the subject matter.

Peanut gallery evinces same attitude of sneering, projectively dismissive whingeing arrogance as my multiyear 19yo repeater freshmen:

“You stupid, why you decide to come here, mister?”

Thought Bowdoin was a better school than that.

46

Constantine 02.18.04 at 6:40 am

Every time one of my classmates talks about becoming a teacher, I supress a smug grin. I can imagine nothing less fulfilling and satisfying than wasting one’s mind trying to teach dolts.

After reading things like this, I’m reminded that teaching must be truly God’s work because it is so unvalued by the rest of the world.

47

Jay 02.18.04 at 7:58 am

Um, John, you weren’t one of those spoiled prep school brats whose parents wanted them to go to Harvard but sent them scurrying to Bowdoin in a panic after they got a 980 on the SAT because Bowdoin is one of the few top schools that doesn’t require a standardized test score for admission. Pesky tests interfere wth athletic recruiting and legacy admissions, I guess.

48

Michael R. H. Swanson, Ph. D. 02.18.04 at 2:18 pm

This argument, interesting though it may be, is probably as old as grading itself. It is pervasive at the University level as well as the High School level. Perhaps it is time to think of new ways to assess what students do, and perhaps we now have the technology to do this. The student’s work is the proper measure of the student’s ability, not the teacher’s grade upon it. I suspect that a single DVD can contain a complete record of everything a high school student produces in four years..scans of papers complete with teacher comments, .jpg or .gif files of student works of art, .wav or .mpg files of student performances. Admissions committees (and employers) can evaluate for themselves what students can do. They can sample the total record any way they find convenient, and make the process transparent by making their sampling process explicit. Why not? Why does assessment continue as if there has been no change in technology since the invention of the punch card?

Mike

49

harry 02.18.04 at 2:18 pm

Come on guys, John’s being satirical. Right, john?

cafl and nychsmathteacher: in the particular case I have no doubt that the teacher is in the right. Of course, there are cases where overburdened and disorganised teachers lose assignments, and it must be incredibly frustrating for kids when it happens. The fact that it must sometimes happens just raises the stakes in this absurd battle of the wills. Neither parents nor teachers are to balme for the dynamic — the system of classroom teacher grading is. Again, in the case that I describe I know that the teacher will not yield; but I think it highly likely that the *Principal* will. NYCHSMT’s experience shows why there are no easy solutions — as redshift says, there is an incredibly strong anti-intellectual streak among the politicians in charge of these things. I watched as my own state went through roughly the same process as NY, though it stopped short of provoking outrage because it became clear fairly early on that the standards it was adopting would rule out 80% of high school graduates. What was striking — shocking — was that the politicians and civil servants involved clearly knew nothing at all about the experience of the numerous countries which have ad external exams and national standards (as well as knowing next to nothing about what happens in schools). It was as if Wisconsin was the first place in the world to do this so we had to start anew.

redshift — yes, I took your comment to be friendly criticism. The fact remains that I was careless and you were right to point it out!

bq. Teachers may be evaluated, but I have seen many situations in which teachers remain in place that do not perform well at all.

Should we have a new discussion about this? You’re absolutely right. But nothing much follows from this. I am highly sceptical that if managers had more powers to dismiss they would be competent to use them (because they do not know how to distinguish the bad from the good), at least in the short term. There’s a kind of deadlock — unions don’t want to give dismissal powers to managers because they know they’d be incompetent; because they don’t have those powers the managers have no need to be competent at using them. Furthermore, teaching is just one of numerous professions in which low performers retain their jobs, the supposed rigours of the market notwithstanding. There are numerous mediocre — and downright bad — doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc, still in business, and they get paid more.
What is striking — and shocking — to me is how little is done to make mediocre teachers better. Lots of low performers are low performers not because of ill-will, laziness, or natural incompetence, but because they work in schools where the kind of support needed for being good at what you do just isn’t there. Good managers intervene not to fire low performers but to enhance their performance. Here I really am being anecdotal — but my proxy experience of several US high schools is that low performers are shunned by their colleagues and ignored by management, rather than being helped out.

50

tim 02.18.04 at 3:44 pm

“I am highly sceptical that if managers had more powers to dismiss they would be competent to use them (because they do not know how to distinguish the bad from the good)”

Perhaps, but that’s a problem with the kinds of people who currently end up as school administrators, it is not a fundamental problem. And after all, we don’t need to make fine distinctions here, we only need to eliminate the really bad ones (and reward the particularly good ones!). The teachers all know who they are. And the students by and large do, too. It’s not hard in principle to determine who is not sufficiently competent, it’s just hard in principal.

“Furthermore, teaching is just one of numerous professions in which low performers retain their jobs…. There are numerous mediocre ? and downright bad ? doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc, still in business, and they get paid more.”

Right, but lawyers and dentists and such don’t have managers to evaluate them.

51

emjaybee 02.18.04 at 5:31 pm

One of the biggest myths out there is how much the college you choose affects your job prospects.

First of all, unless your chosen profession needs a grad degree, a State U diploma will get you just as many interviews as a private one. Yes, Harvard might get your application to Corporation X more noticed, but it might also make them think you’re overqualifed. A Bachelor’s now does what a HS diploma used to, which is simply giving your potential boss something to check off the list. They are much more interested in experience, in which case these frothing parents would better spend their time enrolling Johnny in internships and pushing them to take summer jobs. I speak from personal experience here–in entering three different professions in the last 15 years, no one has expressed any interest at all in my GPA or which college I attended. They wanted to know if I had experience, knew the relevant software and could dress and act professionally.

The biggest obstacle to education for most kids is not that .04 difference on their GPA but a lack of funds to pay for skyrocketing college fees. The pity of it is, it’s impossible to get a job without sinking four years and thousands of dollars into school, no matter that in some professions a college degree is less useful than the chance to learn hands-on.

52

james 02.18.04 at 6:25 pm

Here in Ontario we’ve recently had in the news parents suing the government because their children cannot graduate without passing a Grade 10 level standardized literacy test. (See http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20040209.wlitt0209/BNStory/National/ for more details.)

Aside from the underlying implication — that high school graduation is a right independednt of the statutory requirements for that graduation — I find the idea that the students who fail these fairly minimalist tests (after the opportunity over two years for several retries) will be able to pursue any goals based on later academic achievment dubious. The relative stress of university as compared to high school is likely to prove at least as great a barrier.

53

David Salmanson 02.18.04 at 6:52 pm

A. Has anybody actually shown that .1 of a percent will harm an applicant’s chances of getting into college. Some admissions officer want to demystify the process? Or was it just a convenient way to explain not getting into one’s first choice college, and really how realistic was that in the first place for you. Even if you got that 1/10th chances are you still weren’t getting in.

B. Hasn’t anybody here heard of a grading rubric?

C. The College Board lost quality control of the APs a long time ago by offering way too many. Some of the best high school have stopped offering AP and many more are looking hard at it.

D. Lost work done on computer is easily replaced and date verifiable. But if your kid has repeatedly had lost work with lots of different teachers, there is something else going on here. Especially if teachers collect assignments by e-mail or on the computer using blackboard or the equivalent. ie: Is your kid losing the stuff before s/he gets to school and not admitting it? How neat is the binder etc.

E. An end of year high stakes exam is a fine way to figure a grade unless, class discussion matters (as in languages), that’s the weak you get mono, your grandfather dies, etc.., you do better at 1 hour exams than 3 hour exams etc. etc. etc.

F. While establishing a portfolio of work is a fine concept and works in certain circumstances such as art school, having one’s high school career put onto a CD rom is just silly. Who is going to look at all that stuff just to find out if you can sort, work a cash register, etc.? That’s why employers give their own quickie tests.

G. If that principal has any brains he will refer the problem back to a department chair who won’t change the grade, otherwise he will be besieged by parents in a short time and never get any work done.

54

carla 02.18.04 at 8:16 pm

First, the biggest problem is that we as a society have failed in our previous commitment to provide a public education for all of our citizens. Some kids can get it because they live in the right neighborhoods; some can get it because they’re extremely smart or motivated and they find a teacher or teachers who help them. Many get nothing except a chair in which to sit.

Second, why, exactly, would someone want to be a teacher? Well, there are many reasons, and they’re good reasons, but, again, we do not value this job sufficiently. We do not pay well, and, in many places, we do not demand enough. (I think this has its roots in the notion that teachers can be “managed” in Taylorist fashion, that administrators have to run things, that teachers cannot come up with a curriculum, for example. See Marjorie Murphy’s book, “Blackboard Unions.” Or the first half of my dissertation, for that matter.)

Third, a high school diploma did used to mean something. Certainly in my parents’ generation (they graduated from the same high school I did, in 1948 and 1952, or thereabouts) it meant something, i.e., you left having learned something. Now, however, unless the kid is going to college–in which case the gloves are off, gotta fight for every last GPA point–it’s a holding pen that demands little and delivers less. And not because teachers are worthless–most, I suspect, would LOVE to be able to really teach–even teach the kids who aren’t going to college (or maybe especially them).

But without a commitment to public education for everyone, it’s only going to get worse.

55

limberwulf 02.18.04 at 8:33 pm

Um, what is a commitment going to do that we are not doing? I think we need to bring the free market to schools, not more government funding and beurocracy.

56

Thomas R. 02.18.04 at 11:34 pm

Ruth:
“According to the article he cites, black students in South Africa don’t automatically get points added to their scores; rather, students who are not native speakers of the examination languages — English or Afrikaans — get a 5% bonus, to account for the disadvantages of being examined in a second language.”

Here’s a link to the article again.

When reading it remember:
1) Almost all South Africans who don’t speak English or Afrikaans as a first language are black
2) Almost all South African blacks don’t speak English or Afrikaans as a first language.

My claim that “black students get 5% added automatically to their matric marks.” is therefore correct.

“…but the deficit corrected for is a linguistic one, not a racial one…”

Despite “overwhelming evidence” that writing exams in a second language is not a disadvantage, the South African government insists in adding 5% to these students’ marks. The deficit therefore seems more likely to be racial (blacks still have to deal with the legacy of “Bantu Education”).

57

tim 02.18.04 at 11:34 pm

“we do not value this job sufficiently. We do not pay well, and, in many places, we do not demand enough.”

That’s not so obviously true. Teacher starting salaries are comparable with starting salaries for for a B.A. in liberal arts. (Not with accountants or engineers, however.) And the average teacher salary is not so far out of line compared with average US household incomes. (Especially if the household has two teachers, and considering that the salary is for 9 or 10 months of work.) And the average teacher salary doesn’t compare unfavorably with positions in small colleges – positions which, btw, generally require Ph.D.s.

In addition, a recent study from Stanford has shown that teacher pay doesn’t correlate with student outcomes, and a study from Texas reveals that retention problems in the public schools are linked to problems with discipline and administration much more than with pay.

Finally, private school teachers generally are paid more poorly than public school teachers, but there isn’t the same crisis of education from the private schools – quite the opposite.

So, while it does seem true that the management of schools and educators is a problem, it is probably not the case that the salary is really the problem. And throwing more dollars at the school may be a poor solution even if salary is the problem – because that’s what they have administrators there for, to absorb the extra money.

58

john 02.19.04 at 1:59 am

To Jay: I was accepted to Harvard, most likely because I am a legacy. I chose Bowdoin over Harvard primarily for the difference in size, but the role my legacy status played in my admittance was a factor. As for test scores, the truth is that a policy like Bowdoin’s aids people with very high test scores, like your’s truly. When the admission’s board has two applicants that are similar, the one who submitted scores will almost always get preferential treatment, barring legacy or athletic recruit status. I attended public school, not a fancy prep school. I was admitted to the major NESCAC school’s, except for Williams. I chose Bowdoin for the food, its Gov’t department, and its location by the ocean.

To Tim: I would imagine the experience of teaching at a liberal arts college to have rewards beyond mere monetary compensation: the enjoyment of teaching a subject one cares about to students who also care seems to play a larger role than salary.

To NYC: Bowdoin is a fine institution. I understand that my opinions are provocative if nothing else, but I do not find them adequate basis for your remarks about my college. Here, I represent my opinions, and I do not claim (or even imagine!) them to be shared by most of my classmates.

My views are not the result of my time spent in college: I am from New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the country, and went through one of the worst public education systems, period. My teachers were, with one exception, lazy and worthless. Although they may claim the highest principles behind their “motivation” to teach, the day to day behavior exhibited in the classes did not reflect this. Rather, they seemed tired, worn, and entirely apathetic with regards to the students.

At Bowdoin, I find the greatest wealth in my peers, and the second greatest in professors who delight in their work and their students. I cannot understand why anyone would prefer to teach high school than college, given the choice.

I understand that teaching in public high school is thankless, frustrating work. But you chose to become a teacher. You chose this profession aware of the difficulties involved. Someone who complains about hardships they have chosen freely deserves mockery.

Can or have you made a difference in a student’s life? Have you mentored a student, and given him/her a desire for success that they could not find elsewhere? And is that experience, if you have had it, as rewarding as I would imagine?

Why then would you choose to teach in an environment where your pupils are mediocre, and talent rare, but worst of all, not even necessary to pass?

As for those who believe that only slight differences exist between State U and the top tier private colleges: you are wrong.

What professions have you entered, where your gpa does not count?

The top schools offer several huge advantages, the most important of which (imho) are:

1. The alumni network. If I want to Ibank for First Boston, for example, I have a long list of people that I can get in touch with. Preferential treatment is practically guaranteed.
2. The general atmosphere. I am now surrounded by the kind of people I will most likely spend the rest of my life interacting with: highly motivated intellectuals. The confidence I have gained in my own ability to compete and succeed with them is invaluable. The general attitude at Bowdoin regarding postgrad endeavors reflects this confidence.

3. Graduate school does figure into many careers, particularly as education inflation continues. My gpa will not have to be nearly as high as it would at a State U to gain admissions into the top grad schools.

Of course, there are excellent state schools. I do not mean to discount them: they offer exactly the benefits I described above.

Where you go to college matters, even if only for personal reasons. For example, I paid approx. ten dollars for beer last semester, thanks to school funded social houses. I believe that will compare favorably with any state university.

I do not find public school teachers admirable in the same sense that I find martyrs foolish.

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Gaska 02.19.04 at 6:50 pm

“I understand that teaching in public high school is thankless, frustrating work. But you chose to become a teacher. You chose this profession aware of the difficulties involved. Someone who complains about hardships they have chosen freely deserves mockery.”

This is absurd. Teaching is an important job that must be done, and many are willing to do it in spite of the hardships. This doesn’t mean they need to accept them. Speaking out about the problems in the teaching profession is a necessary part of effecting any positive change. For you to dismiss teachers’ concerns with “you knew the job was dangerous when you took it” is short-sighted and irresponsible. I’m not saying teachers should be canonized; I am saying that heaping derision on someone for taking on a messy, but necessary job – and having the gall to try to make it less messy – is outrageous.

Instead of smugly dismissing those you consider beneath you, you might try a little empathy. You might also reflect on what things would be like if no one were willing to do this work.

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Hipocrite 02.19.04 at 9:31 pm

“If I want to Ibank for First Boston..”

See, if you went to Haaaavard, you would sneer at people who don’t want to work for Goldman.

If you went to the school I went to, however, you’d know that there’s no such thing as “First Boston” any more.

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john 02.20.04 at 2:08 am

Gall? I only find it admirable when it is not combined with stupidity.

Suffering and striving for an unreachable goal strikes me as an incredible waste of one’s life.

People will always teach. Public education is a social experiment that has been in place for the last 150 years. It is a failed experiment: it fails to usefully educate the masses.

Before public education, private schools educated those who could afford it. Teachers have existed without the support of the government.

So, to reflect on what things might be like without teachers: I may as well dwell upon the day elephants talk and cats fly.

The last post has me confused. First Boston doesn’t exist anymore?

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harry 02.20.04 at 3:34 am

bq. Public education is a social experiment that has been in place for the last 150 years. It is a failed experiment: it fails to usefully educate the masses

Yep? Do you have an example of a wealthy country with any measure of social mobility without public education? Without such a control its very hard to say the experiment has failed. I hope you’re not a social science major, or I’ll start revising my high opinion of private universities.

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Ken 02.20.04 at 3:50 pm

“Yep? Do you have an example of a wealthy country with any measure of social mobility without public education? “

Well, I have an example of a country that was steadily getting wealthier and had social mobility without public education – the United States of America before the institution of public education.

Do you seriously believe that our advancement would have stopped in its tracks since then if we had never instituted public education?

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A New York City High School Math Teacher 02.20.04 at 9:06 pm

“Yep? Do you have an example of a wealthy country with any measure of social mobility without public education?”

Well, I have an example of a country that was steadily getting wealthier and had social mobility without public education – the United States of America before the institution of public education.

Do you seriously believe that our advancement would have stopped in its tracks since then if we had never instituted public education?

Free urban public education created a free pool of literate workers able to manage information flows and master technical skills essential to the development of an commercial-industrial economy. Literate labor made modern social politics possible, created mass consumer culture, and gave birth to our enormous pool of skilled and educated professionals.

I do believe that universal free public education had everything to do with economic and cultural progress in the United States over the last 180 years – and I find it very hard to credit seriously a viewpoint that that doesn’t accept that commonplace.

Without public ed — a vast American Ukraine? Carlos, you there?

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dick 02.21.04 at 6:51 am

This will be a little muddled.

I think that some of the problem with high school is that we have teachers who know how to teach by the education department book but really do not have a basis in the subject they are supposed to be teaching. Therefore we have teachers who don’t know their subject and so students who also do not learn the subject.

As to the standardized tests and the political and educational standards that result from them, if the education infrastructure can use these tests to see where the failing schools are falling down and actually do something about it, then the standardized tests will have performed their function. The problem is when the neighborhoods use the schools for social engineering and as a result the good schools are cut down and you end up with a group of mediocre schools instead of one good one and a bunch of mediocre schools. This happened in the neighborhood where I did live here in NYC. There was a very well off neighborhood with active parents and several not well off neighborhoods and totally unconcerned parents. Result was that the activists in the not well off neighborhoods complained that their schools were being shortchanged and the end result was that even the good schools were ruined.

What is being lost here is that all the students should get an education that teaches them to think whether they go on to college or not. That is most definitely not happening. In our 5th tier colleges, it is not happening at college either as anyone who has interviewed graduates can agree.

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Carlos 02.21.04 at 8:12 pm

Yo, HST in NYC.

Claudia Goldin has studied the effects of US public education in the 19th and 20th centuries extensively. Simply put, the vast expansion of ‘human capital’ in the US over the past two hundred years is primarily owed to the public school system. Private schooling, barely a blip.

Goldin is one of the best economic historians of our time; while this silly blogster Ken is obviously unfamiliar with the history of public schools in the US and equally obviously wants to get into a fact-free, ideological debate about it. Too bad for him.

C.

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