Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Failure is impossible for high school students! (No, really)

What would school have been like if you never had to worry about getting an F? Students at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, Va., are about to find out, the Washington Post reports.

Earlier this year, the school all but eradicated the standard mark for “failure”, instead supplying wayward students with the letter “I” for incomplete. So what does an “I” give you that an “F” doesn’t? Time to redeem yourself, for starters. Students with an “I” on their report card can (literally) learn their lesson and catch up over the year, at which point they will be given a grade for their mastery of the material, just like any other student.

So is this an inspired move to get those marginal students on track and learning, or just another way in which we’re coddling underachieving kids and hobbling the rest? Parents, educators and students are divided.

Mary Mathewson, an English teacher at Potomac High tells the Post that the new standard not only cripples teachers in that it "takes away one of the very few tools [they] have to get kids to learn," but it gives them “an out,” resulting in a system in which “kids are under the impression they can do it whenever they want to, and it's not that big of a deal.”

Pointing out that the A-F grading system has not been thrown out entirely, but rather, redesigned to reach those who might not learn at the same rate as their peers, Fairfax County’s assistant superintendent for instructional services asked the Post, “"If we really want students to know and do the work, why would we give them an F and move on? I think the students who are struggling should not be penalized for not learning at the same rate as their peers."

Alternative grading is nothing new: Potomac High joins good company—some of the nation's highest educational institutions, including the law schools of Stanford University, Yale University, and University of California, Berkeley all employ non-traditional grading systems. Other high schools like the Big Picture high schools in Rhode Island, which focuses on internships, have found that learning goes better when uncomplicated by grades. The measure of their success? Improvement in their standardized achievement scores, most of their seniors going to college, and high college graduation rates. Proponents of this kind of grading method have long argued that letters are arbitrary, overly focused on the right answer instead of the thinking behind it, and have no corollary relationship from school to school—in other words, not “fair” from the get-go.

But will the process of learning for the sake of learning be lost on notoriously gratification-minded high school kids? And what about the value of learning from losing in the first place?

“Americans tend to frame things in terms of contests and wars that must be won or lost," writer John Schwartz says in his New York Times essay, "Lessons Learned in the Losing." "Many challenges, however, are about hanging in there and managing a bad situation. Losing prepares you for the slog that is life. The world doesn’t give us many finish lines, but it does give us the long run.”

While his focus is on high school sports rather than grades, I can't help but think Schwartz has an excellent point here about teaching our children to persevere in the face of challenges, even if it's hard to watch. After all, what are we trying to prepare our kids for in school, if not life?


Many universities are 'broke' and won't be bailed out -- while top universities may go private, warns British education chief

Failing universities will not be propped up by the Government, leaving them at risk of closure. Many are ‘broke’ and should not be bailed out but allowed to close, Vince Cable said.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Girls’ Schools Association in Manchester yesterday, the Business Secretary added that the rise in tuition fees would force universities to reform and become more competitive.

'We already have a lot of universities that are effectively broke. If they were in the private sector they would have been filing for bankruptcy. Various arrangements have been cobbled together to keep them going, and we can't continue to do that,' he said.

Ministers are thinking carefully about how such events would be managed, Mr Cable said. 'If a bank goes bust, it has got to be allowed to close, not to its depositors, the depositors have got to be protected. The depositors are the students. 'So if somebody signs up for a university degree course and the university then goes bust, those students must have the right to continue their higher education.

Dr Cable also said the tuition fee rise, which prompted a mass student protest last week, was brought in to stop top universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, LSE and UCL from going private. But he admitted he could not guarantee that no university will become a private institution in the future.

He said: 'One of the reasons were are doing this is precisely to head off Oxford, Cambridge, London Schools of Economics, University College London and a few others from going private, because if we had not opened up the system in the way we have, they would have had a very strong incentive to do so. 'Whether we shall head them off, I don't know.'

Mr Cable said that the Browne review of student funding, published last month, called for universities to be able to set their own tariffs - which could have meant fees of up to £15,000. The Government rejected this because of concerns about the cost to pupils, particularly those from poorer backgrounds.

Mr Cable, who studied at Cambridge University, said he would 'very much regret it' if the institution opted out of the public funding system, but added he does not think they will, as the new proposals have 'enough in it for them'. He added: 'I find it it difficult somehow to imagine Oxbridge opting out, because they have got all these different colleges, they've got different institutions, how are they going to manage that?

'It's a little bit like bankers who say if you're going to put some kind of tax on us we'll run away to Singapore. 'Universities have been playing this game with us - let us have unlimited caps or we'll privatise.

'I don't believe it. I think what we're proposing is a fair settlement which will provide them with enough income to provide high quality education and which is also fair to the pupils.'

Cambridge University has previously said that reports it is considering going private are 'pure speculation'.

Ministers have announced plans to raise the tuition fee cap to £6,000, with universities able to charge up to £9,000 in 'exceptional circumstances'. MPs are expected to vote on the proposal before the end of the year.


Australian school issues detention threat for kids seen hugging

What an appalling scale of values! Wrong to express affection? It sounds like "Brave New World"

STUDENTS at a Gold Coast primary school are being warned against hugging a move some parents say is political correctness gone mad. They say children at the William Duncan State School in Nerang are being punished with detention for hugging or touching their friends boys or girls, the Gold Coast Bulletin said.

Father of five, Ross Kouimanis, labelled the decision "an absolute joke". "What on earth are we turning our kids into?" Mr Kouimanis said. "Kids hug all the time. My high school daughter hugs her friends. It's perfectly normal. "It's political correctness gone mad. Banning kids hugging? It's ridiculous."

Mr Kouimanis's daughter Emily was given a warning for hugging her best friend. "My best friend and I confronted the teacher and she said it was a new school rule and some kids have been sent to detention for hugging," Emily said.

Mr Kouimas said the school should be more worried about educating children and said the ban sexualised an innocent gesture. "They are making something so innocent seem dirty or wrong. It's just normal. "It's what kids do, for Christ's sake.

"Hugs not drugs is an international slogan to fight drug abuse where does that fit in with William Duncan's new school policy?"

The Bulletin understands the policy was developed by the school's Parents and Citizens Association and was reviewed each year, with most members approving measures for students to keep their hands, feet and objects to themselves.

Education Queensland South Coast Regional director Glen Hoppner said there was no EQ policy banning hugging in schools. "William Duncan State School has determined that unwanted or unnecessary physical contact, which in some circumstances can include hugging, is inappropriate playground behaviour," Mr Hoppner said. "The school is mindful of protecting their right to not be touched in an unwanted or inappropriate way."

Mr Hoppner said the school principal was "unaware" of students being given detention for hugging.


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