Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Big D Earns a Big F - and So Does DC

Big D Earns a Big F – and So Does DC
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
August 26, 2008

In Dallas, TX, “F” stands for neither failure or final. But it does stand for foolish. The Dallas school board, in its inimitable stupidity has decided to change the rules in an attempt to reduce the horrifyingly high dropout rate of roughly 50 percent.

Students earning a failing grade on a test will have five days to retake that test and keep the higher score. The same test – not a different variation covering the same material. This gives new meaning to the term “dumbing down.”

This new watered down policy may reduce dropout rates – maybe, but what it most certainly won’t do is prepare students for the real world of competition that awaits them outside the walls of the Dallas school system. This is an obscenity of epic proportion.

Students earning Bs, Cs and Ds suffer from this moronic policy. For one, a student earning a D was simply too smart to fail, yet now has a poor grade to show for the effort. B students, so close to the Holy Grail, could still find themselves on the outside looking in as the failing student could pull an A out of the magic hat of do-overs.

Of course the industrious student could simply fail the original test on purpose, look at it as a review, retake it and earn an A – after all, only the high grade sticks. Life may be about reinventing oneself, but it does not grant do-overs, and neither should the school system in Dallas.

From Dallas to DC, our nation’s capital offers up this next bit of educational idiocy. Chancellor Michelle Rhee is seeking to bribe DCPS students by paying them up to $100 for good attendance, good behavior and good grades. This too is an absurdity. Good attendance, behavior and grades are supposed to be the norm.

I am not writing from some pie in the sky perspective about the DC school system. Having taught in two of DC’s charter schools and understanding that attendance, behavior and grades are poor – even worse in the public schools of the District, to offer awards delivers a wrong message and sets a bad precedent. The reward of good attendance is learning and knowledge – after all knowledge is power I would remind my student on an almost daily basis. And attendance is mandatory until age 16. Tighten the attendance policy to ensure those who do not attend are held back to repeat the grade they so cavalierly dismissed as unimportant.

The reward of good behavior is reward in and of itself. Why do children need to paid to behave appropriately? The reward of good grades should be learning, knowledge and hopefully success at the college level, the military or the work world. Bad behavior gets punished in the real world, while good behavior is its own reward. Badly behaved adults end up incarcerated while well behaved adults become contributing members of society.

As adults, employees are expected to arrive on time, follow the company policies and perform their job in the best manner they know how in exchange for their remuneration. Should they fail on any of those expectations, chances are they will lose their job, and thus their means of support, while success leads to bonuses, raises and even promotions.

For students, good attendance and good behavior leads to good grades typically because they are in class paying attention and learning. Those good grades are rewarded with the raise and promotion to the next grade – not social promotion. Receiving financial remuneration simply waters down the strength and value of the reward of grades and knowledge themselves.

Parents must educate their children about the way school used to be, outline their expectations for their children’s success and excellence and not be afraid to mete out discipline as necessary.

The Rhee program will consist of 14 middle schools from DC, the lowest ranked of all urban school districts, paying about 3,000 students up to $100 every two weeks. Currently only 12 percent of eighth graders have achieved proficiency in reading, and fewer yet, just nine percent are proficient in math.

Will this bribery scheme work? That remains to be seen. But let’s examine another bribery scheme. New York City paid high school students $1,000 to take Advanced Placement tests. The end result – students given the incentive scored lower than those taking the AP exam prior to the facilitation of the incentive. Money well spent? Not then, nor due to come.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.

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