A to F Grading Makes No More Sense for Our Children than It Does for Public Schools!

When we grade schools “A to F” on the basis of standardized test scores like ISTEP+ in Indiana it is as “Absurd” at one end of the grading continuum as it is “Farcical” at the other. This is especially true when the powers that implemented the “A to F” measure envisioned that so-called “failing schools” would be gradually shut down with the kids shuttled off to charter schools from which they could expect immediate turnaround.

If that logic is not “Absurd” I do not know what is and most professional educators concur.

It was also envisioned that the failing schools could be transformed by getting rid of bad teachers and their unions, replacing them with less-educated teachers trained to embrace the use of more sophisticated technologies that would, again, transform the quality of education.

If that logic is not “Farcical” I do not know what is and most professional educators agree.

Most of those same educators would be just as critical of “A to F” grading for the students in their classrooms but the “A to F” mindset has been in place for so long that it has become engrained. It has become one of those fundamental assumptions that defy logic.

Many schools corporations have experimented with other grading methodologies, particularly at the primary level. As far back as the early 1950s, my local school district began using a “V to U” grading system which was essentially the same.

Today, the overwhelming majority of report cards that are sent home to parents throughout the U.S. utilize “A to F”. Is it our intention that we will shut down the children who are given “Fs” and are considered failing?

Of course it is not, but what we are asked to do with these kids is not much more effective. As they move from grade to grade (the word “grade” has become part of our lexicon and subtly shapes our thinking even here) we struggle to know what to do with “F” students. Holding them back is believed to have negative emotional and psychological consequences but moving them along with their classmates is just as problematic.

For generations, most of these children would become drop outs before high school graduation and enter the society as adults poorly prepared to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. In more recent times, our schools have worked hard to keep these young people in school but the ultimate outcome of being poorly prepared is still the norm for far too many of these kids.

This is the reality that the critics of public education point out, with great passion, and it is the driving motivation behind the corporate reform movement that began in the business community and has been aggressively sold to federal and state government through one of the most powerful and effective “lobbying” strategies in history.

The problem is that it is all based upon an erroneous, rarely challenged assumption about what it is that kids need, today. Whether poverty, hopelessness on the part of parents, diluted values, the unprecedented power of the 21st Century peer group, or some combination of the above what these kids need cannot be provided by privatized schools with teachers who are trained rather than educated, and using the wonders of modern technology.

Modern technology can play a powerful role in the hands of a qualified teacher if we took the time to understand what we need it to do for us. Simply distributing tablets and IPads and using digital learning tools will not magically cure what ails 21st Century education.

What kids need are more time and attention from people who care and who have the time to develop trusting and nurturing relations with them. They need us to treat them as unique individuals coming to us at a unique point on their physical, emotional, and intellectual developmental continuum. They need us to teach them how to learn, successfully, which takes longer for some than others, and they need our protection against the failure and humiliation that diminish self-esteem.

And, they need even more from us. The absolute best chance a child can have is when parents and teachers work together as partners on a child’s behalf. When parents do not embrace such relationships with their children’s teachers it is not sufficient to put our heads down and think we can do it on our own.

We must do more to close the distance between our teachers and schools and parents and their communities. We need to sell them on the idea that their child can grow up in a world where they have a menu of positive choices from which to choose that will not only provide a good life for them but will also help them fulfill their civic responsibilities.

Reaching out to the disenfranchised to pull them in is a formidable challenge, indeed, but it is nothing more than a human engineering problem that has a solution that is within our power to achieve.

In the interim, we cannot allow a single child to fail on a single lesson.

We have no expectation that every child that enters kindergarten will arrive at the same destination at the end of their thirteen years of schooling but yet public school teachers are asked to work within a structured educational process that forces them to move students down comparable paths at relative speeds. Our job must be to make certain that students learn as much as they are able within the time they are under our protective wings and that they can use what they learn effectively on the next lesson module and as they face the challenges of citizenship.

Many teachers cannot envision how this could happen within the current structure and they are correct; the structure of the educational process must be altered if we wish to alter its outcomes. Making such alterations is not all that difficult if we are willing to step back and view the process objectively. The truth is, particularly at the primary level, we could start doing things differently, almost immediately; with little or no cost.

Forget “A to F” and shift our focus to an expectation that nothing less than an A or B is acceptable (85 percent or better mastery of subject matter). Let us remember that intellectual development is only one aspect of a child’s development and it works interdependently with their emotional and physical development. Public education must not degenerate into force-feeding content into a child’s brain like they are a computer that just needs more data to process; which is pretty much where we seem to be heading.

What our children and their parents need is that special relationship that many of us had with a favorite teacher whose care and affection we could trust, absolutely.

The educational reforms that are sweeping the nation will destroy us as surely as Mother Nature will punish us if we continue to abuse our environment. Current educational reforms are like a powerful tug boat pulling a safe harbor ever farther away from a dock that has broken loose and is drifting from shore. It is a dock that is full of people who have become separate and apart from the whole and who have become hopeless and powerless. Every time we send a child out into this sea, unprepared, what is left for them but to scramble on to that already over-crowded dock?

The one thing of which we can be sure is that the farther apart we drift the more tragic will be the consequences for the future of our society.

Reject “A to F” for schools, teachers, and children and reinvent our educational process. My book. Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America, will show exactly how this can be accomplished.

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