An ‘A’ for Everyone

Bored StudentStudents are being fooled into thinking they are exceptional by the sharp increase in A’s being handed out in schools, K-12, public or private, and in Ivy League and State Colleges. It didn’t start in the 2000s, or the 1990s. The first sharp increase in handing out A’s happened from the late 1960s to the early 1970s—exactly when the first generation of kids who grew up with TV entered the educational system. (This is just one of dozens of similar TV-effects that hit at that same time, for the same reason, which are validated in Call of the Active Mind). It was the first generation that was ‘made stupid’ by too much TV.

Old SchoolDisproportionate awarding of A’s has continued to rise steadily since the 1970s. Here are a few points from The rise of the ‘gentleman’s A’ and the GPA arms race:

  • “A’s — once reserved for recognizing excellence and distinction — are today the most commonly awarded grades in America.”
  • “That’s true at both Ivy League institutions and community colleges, at huge flagship publics and tiny liberal arts schools, and in English, ethnic studies and engineering departments alike. Across the country, wherever and whatever they study, mediocre students are increasingly likely to receive supposedly superlative grades.”
  • “Analyzing 70 years of transcript records from more than 400 schools, the researchers found that the share of A grades has tripled, from just 15 percent of grades in 1940 to 45 percent in 2013”

And it’s not because students are “doing better than ever.” Students in the US are doing worse than ever. As noted in Anti-Intellectualism and the “Dumbing Down” of America, “After leading the world for decades in 25-34 year olds with university degrees, the U.S. is now in 12th place.” While we fool ourselves with more A’s than ever, with absurd GPAs like 4.9 on a 4.0 scale, the rest of the world is leaving us in the dust.
As passing out A’s like candy increases, reward becomes more disconnected from performance.

As discussed in Call of the Active Mind, some rationalize that exaggerated grades nurture students’ self-esteem. Instead, we are “hampering the ability of students to compete in the global marketplace.” We send ill-equipped young men and women into a global marketplace that will, in best case, make them suffer and struggle to get up to speed in the employment market, or worst case, crush their hopes and ruin their lives. Prisons are full of them.

If students’ self-esteem is temporarily propped up by fraudulent 4.0 GPAs, it will be mercilessly unraveled by real-life competition later. That’s not doing students a favor, it’s really a cruel trick being played on them.
To be fair, many teachers are under pressure to give exaggerated grades. That trail leads back to money, with funding based on school performance (such as average GPAs or graduation rates), whereas true student performance is not part of the equation. Administrators are under similar pressure to put pressure on teachers, for the same reasons. In some cases their livelihoods and careers are at stake. Students are the losers.

At the college level, there are even more politics at play. Graduates with higher GPAs and more honors are more likely to get job placement, regardless of the lack of real learning. That means colleges can say more of their students get jobs in their field of study, which attracts more new students, which increases revenue. It’s a business.

Whether K-12, public or private, or college, Ivy League or State School, student performance is the least significant factor in the educational game in the US.

Educational deterioration traces back to greed, negligence, immediate gratification, artificial self-esteem, and lower functioning minds. This is evident in government, in colleges, in public schools. Corruption is nothing new. But what is new, is the massive scale of this fraud suddenly in the 1960s and 1970s, which never happened before in history, and which continues to today. What is also new is the sudden collapse of integrity that happened across the board, in an unprecedented way, following the introduction of TV into our living rooms and into our minds. Until this root cause is faced openly, these problems will never be fixed.
Students at Blackboard
Does that mean all students are doomed? Not entirely. Some schools have excellent administrators, high-caliber teachers, and responsible students who are developing and learning and who are rewarded for performance, as it should be. The problem is, this used to be the majority.

On a more cynical note, which might be perversely comforting for some, is that a few other countries are starting to catch up to our poor performance. The US has the dubious honor of leading the world towards decline with our proliferation of passive entertainment habits to the rest of the world, which undermines the educational process. For example, in Harsh truths about the decline of Britain: “An international survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has found standards of literacy and numeracy among school-leavers in England and Northern Ireland to be among the lowest in the developed world. Shockingly, older people leaving the workforce were better educated than those joining it. This may be the first time in recorded history that such a phenomenon has occurred, with the young worse educated than their parents.”

Child Reading for FunThe hope for tomorrow is to be an involved parent, supplement school with home education (or just home school), and stop letting your kids watch TV. Don’t worry about how smart your child is, worry about how active their mind is during playtime as well as worktime.

A closing note about home schoolers from a recent study:

  • “The study included almost 12,000 home-school students from all 50 states who took three well-known standardized achievements tests…The students were drawn from 15 independent testing services, making it the most comprehensive home-school academic study to date.”
  • “In reading, the average home-schooler scored at the 89th percentile; language, 84th percentile; math, 84th percentile; science, 86th percentile; and social studies, 84th percentile. In the core studies (reading, language and math), the average home-schooler scored at the 88th percentile.”
  • “The average public school student taking these standardized tests scored at the 50th percentile in each subject area.”
  • the average home-school test results continue to be 30-plus percentile points higher than their public school counterparts
  • “In a sentence, home-schooling is a recipe for academic success.”

I want public schools to be the best choice for everyone. But at present they are not.

References in this post:

Read more from my book Call of the Active Mind
©Copyright Robert Rose-Coutré 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016

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