Tuesday, July 7, 2015

This One Weird Trick Will Raise Your Graduation Rate

Don't let teachers give failing grades.

I just came across an enraging enlightening piece in The Atlantic: What Schools Will Do to Keep Students on Track. It describes how Chicago raised high school graduation rates from 49 percent in 2007 to 68 percent in 2014.

Schools like North-Grand that have successfully improved freshman pass rates employed variations of the same set of interventions. They adopted data systems to track freshmen progress, carefully picked the right teachers for ninth-graders, created weekly grade checks, provided mentors and tutoring sessions, stepped up truancy monitoring, set aside one day a week for students to make up work, and started freshman seminars that teach kids to “do high school.”

OK, sounds good. Spend a little money on data and support services.

Some schools also switched to forms of grading that are designed to be more fair and modern—less emphasis on turning in homework on time and more emphasis on actually learning—but have been accused of inflating GPAs.

Uh-oh. "Fair and modern?" What does that mean, exactly?

We won't use all the numbers. Just the fair and modern ones.

Some schools go too far, [teachers] say, by declining to penalize students for late work and prohibiting teachers from giving grades below 50. Traditionally, a student who didn’t hand in work would get a zero.

So teachers aren't allowed to assign a zero to someone who did zero work. Why the zero tolerance for zeroes? Because the number zero is just a big zero-y buzzkill who goes around pulling down averages and stuff. At least that's the reason given in the article: "A single zero can disproportionately pull down a student’s average."

Well, at least with standards so low, there's no need to doctor attendance records and inflate grades.
Once Chicago began pushing for higher freshmen pass rates, teachers started to complain that school administrators were cheating by doctoring attendance records and inflating grades...“It’s all data-driven and whatever they can do—lie, fudge, and steal—they’ll do to get the numbers up,” says Marilyn Parker, a Manley teacher. The two other teachers requested anonymity because they feared retaliation

Retaliation? Come on, no one would actually--

“They’re letting kids manipulate the system,” says Manny Bermudez, a Juarez teacher who last year publicly confronted his school’s administration about attendance and grading practices and was later fired, after which he sued and was ultimately reinstated.

And although it might not seem to be in the students' best interest to get "passed along in ninth grade and begin tenth grade without basic skills, advancing in a similar fashion all the way to graduation," there is an important upside to this whole exercise: a brief taste of life as a one-percenter.

When you go to elite schools, they won’t let you fail,” says Liz Kirby, a Chicago principal, now CPS administrator, who was an early adopter of on-track strategies. “Why don’t kids in public schools, poor kids, deserve a chance?”
Rampant Grade Inflation will put a jamón ibérico in every pot!


  1. I was not a good student in high school but my parents didn't let me fail either. They chained me to the dining room table for a mandatory three hour period every school night. Not exactly fair and modern.

    I'd get so bored that I would eventually do my one hour's worth of homework then read books for pleasure, so it worked.

  2. I'm not actually a big fan of homework or attendance counting for too much of a grade. In fact, I think there's something to be said for the English system (or the English system of once upon a time; I'm not sure how things work now), where the only grade that really counts is the one on an end-of-year exam scored by a committee that doesn't necessarily include, and in any case definitely isn't limited to, the student's own instructor.

    But there are obvious downsides to that system as well (not only the disadvantage for people who do better day-to-day than on high-stakes one-time tests, but also the danger for those who get by on general smarts and last-minute cramming until they reach a level where that no longer works, and suddenly find themselves without the time-management/study skills they need to go further).

    The don't-let-kids-fail thing (which does, indeed, exist at elite schools, both high school and college) also has its upsides and downsides. It's a good thing if it helps catch a kid who has been working up to hir potential, and starts going downhill because of some sort of issue that can be addressed (mental health, addiction, family upheaval, etc.) effectively, and the kid gotten back on track, probably stronger for having faced and dealt with the crisis, with an appropriate amount of support/help. It's not such a good thing if it means that a kid learns that (s)he doesn't really need to try, think, or work for hirself, because there will always be another chance when (s)he screws up.

    Happy mediums. There are always happy mediums. And, since happy mediums are by definition hard to find, and vary by person and situation, measuring success by spreadsheet rarely aids in arriving at them.

  3. My relative works as a high school math teacher and he basically isn't allowed to fail students. He has to give them make-up assignments. They had to increase graduation rates, so obviously lowering standards is the only way since high standards means fewer will graduate. My state has ended tenure for new public school teachers and principals can fire at will for no reason with no appeal. My relative will keep his tenure since he had it before the state removed it, but there are ways of going after tenured teachers who disagree with a principal's decision. Principals can transfer any teacher to another school within a county whether or not a teacher agrees to it. They like to send "disagreeable" teachers to the worst-performing, inner-city school where teacher careers go to die. The only way to not be transferred is to resign.

    My state leaders really hate teachers. They honestly do. They think they are lazy, whiny, and liberal. Teachers receive all the blame for students failing. The state wants them to make bricks without straw in a figurative sense. Of course, our teachers leaving in droves to other states with tenure and better pay, but the state says giving more money to teachers and the education system will bankrupt the state. So much stupidity, I can't stand it. I'm watching my state slowly die. It won't be long before the state universities are next.