No-Zero Hero?
June 2, 2012 10:48 AM   Subscribe

On May 18, after a hearing with the Superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools, Lynden Dorval was suspended for insubordination after repeatedly refusing to comply with his school's Grading Policy (PDF). This has sparked outrage and discussion about high school grading policies. Opponents of the "no-zero" policy claim that it does not prepare students for real life, while the Superintendent of EPSB, Edgar Schmidt, claims that it helps the School District achieve it's goal for "more students to complete high school". The 35-year veteran teacher expects to be fired for his position on the grading policy.
posted by Amity (127 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes, more students do complete high school if you refuse to fail them. I'm sure that won't have any unintended consequences, either.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:53 AM on June 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


The baccalaureat education bubble is about to pop.

At which point high school diplomas will have to matter a lot more.

At which point we'll see that the teacher is right.
posted by ocschwar at 10:54 AM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Somehow, even before reading, I knew it would be a Ross Sheppard IB teacher.
posted by aramaic at 10:57 AM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Under their philosophy, shouldn't they give him another year to do as they ask? (And another year after that?) How will teachers learn if you remove them from the classroom?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:03 AM on June 2, 2012 [81 favorites]


Man that is some seriously heavy editorializing in those news articles. I'm a little surprised they couldn't manage to bring themselves to print a single letter in favour of the policy or at least nuancedly neutral.
posted by Mitheral at 11:03 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mitheral, there is some reporting on the policy's defenders in the last link:

Edgar Schmidt, superintendent of the Edmonton Public School Board, said principals have been given latitude based on research.

The theory, he said, is that a zero doesn't reflect a student's knowledge of a course. Missing an assignment may actually indicate behaviour problems or other issues.

Schmidt said the more effective method is to get a student to do the work through additional classes, after school or at home.

"It's much better for us to let students know they're not let off the hook by not completing assignments," he said.

"Sometimes just indicating a zero can be interpreted we're just giving up on you and you're not worth the effort — and that's the piece we do not want to see happen."

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:05 AM on June 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


The school's position that failure to complete assignments is a behavioural issue not a performance issue is an interesting one. On the one hand, it's likely true for students who don't hand in great swaths of work. But, at that point, judging them on work completed is meaningless. On the other hand, the students are given full opportunity to hand in missed work at seemingly no penalty and surely there ought to be some penalty for not being arsed to do that.

Why do I suspect some kid didn't hand in a major component of the grade and now the kid's parents are making a stink? Do you lose university places in Canada if your final year/term grades fall below some mark?
posted by hoyland at 11:08 AM on June 2, 2012


I can actually kind of see where the school is coming from, sort of. Although I'm not sure I agree with the implementation.

If you consider grades to be a strict assessment of student learning and skill, a zero grade for a missing assignment doesn't make sense. Not completing an assignment isn't the same as doing a terrible job on it, and it doesn't tell you the same things about their ability level. Any teacher will tell you that you get knowledgeable students who just don't turn anything in, and differentiating between these students and students who just failed to grasp the material is probably a good idea. Certainly you address the two situations in very different ways.

The problem I see is that this kind of policy has to be enforced pretty rigidly, or students will take advantage of it to be lazy, or game the system by skipping assignments they would do badly at. Furthermore, you just KNOW the teachers will be dealing with tons of late assignments all of the time unless there is some kind of penalty, and giving grade penalties undermines the entire point of the no-zero system. So implementation is tricky.

Basically, I can see this potentially being a good idea IF IMPLEMENTED WELL, but it sounds really difficult to implement and I suspect it will be reduced to a system for allowing lazy students to leak through the system without undertaking the difficult job of actually helping them.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:08 AM on June 2, 2012 [18 favorites]


This system has been in place in BC for at least a decade. The incomplete grade is zeroed out at the end of the year and students are certainly still failed. They're just given opportunities to make up missed work before that happens. This is not unlike undergraduate courses, where extensions are plentiful and deadlines are flexible, more often than not. . .
posted by mek at 11:15 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


If at first you don't succeed, redefine success.
posted by Malor at 11:15 AM on June 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


I feel really bad for the teacher. Though he should have resigned if he didn't believe in the policy instead of just ignoring it. He put the hardworking students in a really bad spot. Maybe he should have just assigned incompletes for missed work. Incompletes are a better descriptor than a zero.
posted by discopolo at 11:16 AM on June 2, 2012


I think he probably ought to be fired, even though he's correct - because it's not his decision to make. I think he understands this too, and is doing it as a protest despite that.

Although I don't think he has the authority as a teacher to make this call, I'd happily vote for him for the school board on a platform of getting rid of both the policy and the people who implemented it.
posted by tyllwin at 11:17 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The superintendent explains the relevant policy:
The reason we assign a certain grade is to give a student feedback on what they have learned. If a student writes a test and gets all the answers wrong, they are assigned a zero on that test. This tells the teacher the student does not know the material and needs extra support. The mark is then put in the context of all their other learning that takes place during the year. If, by the end of the year, the student still hasn’t mastered the material, they fail the course.

However, missed assignments are treated differently. Our approach to missed assignments is to work with each student to find out the reason they did not turn in an assignment. Once a teacher finds out the reason, they work with the student to come up with a solution to address the situation. They agree to a plan to turn in future assignments and the teacher holds the student accountable.
That's fair enough, just so long as that last phrase ("the teacher holds the student accountable") is actually given weight and effect. And in that context, if this is the official policy and a teacher is refusing to comply with it...then yes, that insubordination would seem to warrant suspension and/or termination. It honestly doesn't seem all that controversial.
posted by cribcage at 11:17 AM on June 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


And I'm saying that as someone who has never handed work in late. I would have felt too ashamed to look the teacher in the eye.
posted by discopolo at 11:18 AM on June 2, 2012


If a student doesn't do something, you can't evaluate their knowledge of it. I turned in almost no homework in high school and graduated with about a 2.5 with near-perfect test scores--and finished college with a 3.9 after getting the mental health help I *should* have had in high school. If a student misses stuff only now and then, how is that, still, any better an idea of what they know about the material?

I sort of like the idea that one of my law school profs has had. We have the usual random-call kind of thing going on and it's hard material and a lot of it. But we get a couple times during the semester that we can just sign off and not get called on, no questions asked--a certain number of days you don't have to have done the reading because ordinary people are going to occasionally have things come up. Give kids the discretion to plan when it's worth it and not worth it. And then past a reasonable number of missed assignments, assume that something is wrong and refer them accordingly.
posted by gracedissolved at 11:20 AM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I always assumed that working to meet inflexible and arbitrary deadlines was one of those Life Skills I was supposed to be learning.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:21 AM on June 2, 2012 [19 favorites]


Okay. My gut reaction is outrage and disbelief. The argument seems pretty stacked. Prepare students for real life, or else let them complete high school without submitting any work; hmm, which one is better? There must be a stronger argument for the other side. Here's one:

School assignments, deadlines, and even grades are often arbitrary, and many students see through the game or don't want to play. Such students might be perfectly capable of achieving deadlines for things that actually matter; their low marks do not reflect low ability, just low engagement and motivation. Giving zeros might not make these students want to change, and in fact might push them further away so that they internalize the arbitrariness of the system, or worse, their own worthlessness. It's actually quite a lot to ask for some students to mold themselves to fit this system at such a young age when there is nothing tangible on the line, and to hold such high consequences of failure over their heads, namely, no diploma, no college, no jobs, a life of struggle.

I went through a gifted/talented program and remember a classmate who never handed in assignments on time or at all, to the point where it became a class joke. The teacher assigned a -10% penalty per week for a science project and his maximum grade was something like negative 50% at one point (well after they were due, and his still wasn't done) and he was mocked openly. What did that accomplish? It certainly did not make him eager to get on with running some pointless busy-work experiment and gluing construction paper onto a backboard. He was an artist; it probably made him more likely to sit in the back corner and doodle and ignore everyone. Back then he was a "problem student" and might have been held back under a very strict regime. Now he's a professional web dev / graphics guy / photographer. I guess somewhere along the line he figured out how to complete projects respond to deadlines. It's a good thing we let him have a diploma even though he never handed in all that work.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:21 AM on June 2, 2012 [15 favorites]


I am not familiar with any of the details in this case. In particular, I have no idea what kind of relationship Mr. Dorval has with the administration in his school district. Usually, there are all kinds of power struggles.

Superficially, looking at the grading policy document, it would seem that the district has a practicable, not unrealistic grading policy. I don't know how it works out in practice, but it certainly could work if applied consistently. According to the document, students are required to complete all assigned work. Non-completion of assigned work triggers a series of interventions that progresses to a mark of "unable to evaluate." It's not clear what that means in practice, but I imagine that such a mark prevents the student from earning credit for the class and leads to summer school.

Again, I don't know whether this is a practical system, but it doesn't at first glance seem impossible to put into practice.

On the other hand, many districts have draconian grading and attendance policies. Many schools create environments for their students that resemble prisons or labor camps more than they resemble a typical workplace. Students are often penalized disproportionately for very minor tardiness or missing a deadline by a single day. In some cases, a student with perfect grades but less than perfect attendance may not be given credit for the class or referred for disciplinary action.

Let's recall that school systems usually have lots of "one size fits all" policies that actually have very poor fit for lots of students. And let's also remember that some teachers are petty martinets.

I mean, sure, a zero tolerance policy for missed assignments or something may accurately approximate what it feels like to work at a fast food restaurant with a power-drunk supervisor. On the other hand, lots of people in office jobs have flexible schedules, are late to meetings, and adjust deadlines. The sky doesn't fall.

Please take the story with a grain of salt. It's almost certainly less cut and dry that it appears. Reductionist hurf-durfing about "lazy students" or "failing education" is lazy and does a disservice to the topic.
posted by Nomyte at 11:22 AM on June 2, 2012 [18 favorites]


The purpose of grades in a college or high school is not simply to evaluate the student's mastery of the material if they are measured in ways that privilege their unique situations and desires. It's also to demonstrate how they can show that mastery in a standard, structured environment where they're not cut special breaks. I'd personally have done better if I never had to get up before noon, and never had assignments that conflicted with anything I'd rather have been doing. But measuring that isn't what our society, by and large, wants out of these grades.
posted by tyllwin at 11:28 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


This looks like a fine policy to me. Rather than giving students an F for not completing work, give them a "didn't do the work." ("Unable to Evaluate.") Sure, it's not a single letter, but it's clear enough.

They still don't get credit, but I often have more respect for the students who just say "I can't do it in the time allotted, I have such-and-such life events that interfere" rather than the ones who turn in half-assed bullshit.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:28 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is not unlike undergraduate courses, where extensions are plentiful and deadlines are flexible, more often than not. . .

Is this typical at Canadian universities? It has not been my experience in the US. Deadlines are strict abscent a medical excuse.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:31 AM on June 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


misssed assignments should have a detrimental effect but only one factor. Other factors should have a much large effect on your final grade. When I was in school I was horrible at doing homework. Many times I would fail to turn it in. However I usually aced the tests. I would explain to the teacher (buttering them up a bit) that obviously they are doing a great job at teaching me since I can pass the test, I just had a hard time sitting down and actually doing the homework.

Since I was able to demonstrate that I learned the information and was able to apply the knowledge I got away with (for the most part) with failing to turn in all my homework in a timely manner.
posted by 2manyusernames at 11:31 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, the implementation of this policy sounds like it places a huge work burden on the teachers. All of the things the teacher has to do - track down the students, work out a plan to turn in the assignment, accept the assignment during a later point in the semester, and then grade it fairly at a different time than the other student's assignments - all of this is a massive time sink. Whether this is a problem or not mostly depends on how many students each teacher has, and is therefore mostly a question of funding.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:32 AM on June 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


discopolo writes "Maybe he should have just assigned incompletes for missed work. Incompletes are a better descriptor than a zero."

That's essentially what the principal has directed (unable to evaluate instead of incomplete) and is the policy the instructor is refusing to follow.
posted by Mitheral at 11:34 AM on June 2, 2012


The problem I see is that this kind of policy has to be enforced pretty rigidly, or students will take advantage of it to be lazy, or game the system by skipping assignments they would do badly at. Furthermore, you just KNOW the teachers will be dealing with tons of late assignments all of the time unless there is some kind of penalty, and giving grade penalties undermines the entire point of the no-zero system.

This kind of policy, even if it works, is so difficult to implement consistently well from classroom to classroom, that it's going to inevitably result in laziness and gaming the system.

I'm new to the education field, so my approaches are shifting. I've taught community college part time for one year, and full time for one year. Until about two months ago, I was very willing to take in assignments late, give students second chances, on and on. But I've noticed two things, at least where I am:

1) The vast majority of my students won't take advantage of the second chance. It's not really helping them.
2) My generosity seems to be creating an atmosphere where no one bothers to do the work, because they can always turn it in later...which they usually never do, so the zeroes just add up.

I literally had one assignment last semester that no one in a particular class did. No one.

I teach speech, and I have to rigidly schedule student speeches so that we can get through all of them on time. One day (this was where the light dawned on me two months back) none of the students scheduled to speak showed up.

Maybe there are other factors at play, but I blame my extreme willingness to work with them to get late work in. And I do take points off, but they can still pass the assignment, and that seems to be all that my students want.

And, yes, they have been trained for 12 years by a local school system that pushes everyone along who is willing to keep showing up--and that has a 50% drop out rate nonetheless.

I start teaching summer school on Monday, and my next batch of students is about to be introduced to my new zero tolerance policy. (Hmm... I guess that's kind of a double meaning. I have zero tolerance for late work, and I'm willing to tolerate having zeroes in my grade book.) We'll see if that works any better.

I know when I was a student, I was a chronic, horrible procrastinator, but when the due date came, I turned something in. Maybe I had pulled an all-nighter to get it done, but I did it. My students don't do that. And why should they? 12--now 13--years of experience has told them it isn't necessary.

This is my confession. I have contributed to the ongoing mediocrity of my students by not expecting more and better of them. I thought I was doing them a favor, but I was hurting them in the long run.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:35 AM on June 2, 2012 [27 favorites]


I never turned in a single math homework assignment in high school. Not one. After my teacher (I had the same teacher all 4 years) realized she wasn't going to get me to do the homework, she and I made a deal. If I continued to set the curve on the exams, she would give me the class average on all the intervening assignments. She also expected me to help other students when we did these assignments in class.

Unfortunately, I was unable to convince my other teachers to go along with a similar plan.
posted by schyler523 at 11:38 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's essentially what the principal has directed (unable to evaluate instead of incomplete) and is the policy the instructor is refusing to follow.

I know. That's why I said he should have just done that (followed what they told him to do). Not worth getting fired over.
posted by discopolo at 11:38 AM on June 2, 2012


The last three paragraphs of the "more students to complete high school" link bear reading:

Our ultimate goal is for students to complete high school. To accomplish that goal, we must give students the tools they need to get there. We can’t write some students off if they have difficulty. If a student is struggling, we need to identify the cause and provide assistance.

We don’t let students off the hook and we don’t let them down, either. We set out clear expectations and then we support them in learning what they need to know. We give them opportunities to show us what they have learned. And we evaluate them on the work they actually turn in. That’s our approach to assessment.

In order for students to be successful in school and in life, they need the knowledge, skills and attitudes to make a smooth transition into the world of work and post secondary education. By taking an all or nothing approach to a missed assignment, we are not doing our job as educators to prepare all students, including those who face significant challenges, to take the next step in their educational journey as a lifelong learner.


So from initially feeling rather disturbed by the almost CATCH-22 level of bureaucratic dissonance I was imagining, I find myself actually getting it. Do you level a zero at a kid for his/her high crime of not buying-in to the game at hand (following the curriculum, playing by the often arbitrary rules), or do you step back and get more realistic about where high-school-learning really fits into the scheme of things? Which is, it's just another step toward functionality in a complex world that happens to feel like a very big deal at the time.

Of course, I also feel for the teacher big-time in a situation such as this. Who the hell wants a kid in their class who can't be bothered to even try playing the game? Which tells me that there needs to be another option for both students. That is, if a kid chooses to opt out of the given curriculum (for whatever reason), there's another level he can play at, one that strips away every concern except achieving minimum college/tradeschool/etc competencies. (ie: who cares if he scored a zero on that English paper because he just didn't give a shit, if he can himself write a cover letter for a job he wants, he can function)

Because seriously, some of the smartest, wisest, most accomplished middle-aged adults I know had major issues getting through high school. They just didn't fit the structure. Which I'm liberal enough to believe was the structure's fault, not theirs.
posted by philip-random at 11:40 AM on June 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


Remember kids, it's worse to try and to fail than to have never tried at all.
posted by cotterpin at 11:42 AM on June 2, 2012


OK. Don't give out zeroes. OK. I'd give a .1 then. Same difference.
posted by exlotuseater at 11:42 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if they are required to assign and collect graded homework. I'm reminded of a college professor I once had whose approach was to make all homework only reading and self-study. Then he'd teach the material, then the next class you'd start with a ten minute timed quiz on the material and homework from the class before. So, we took about 40 quizzes in that class and that made a majority of our grade. It was tough, but probably the closest to a real life experience I've had in class. Every day is a little quiz, and they all add up.
posted by meinvt at 11:43 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pater Aletheias: My students don't do that. And why should they? 12--now 13--years of experience has told them it isn't necessary.

If this is the institutional and cultural standard, individual professors probably don't have the authority to change habits. Some students will quickly adapt to the new standards we set, but others will not, and they will complain, with some justification, that we have broken the disengagement compact.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:49 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not completing an assignment isn't the same as doing a terrible job on it, and it doesn't tell you the same things about their ability level....

While that is true, strictly speaking - a student might have entire worlds of knowledge in their head - at the end of the day people demonstrate what they know by producing work.

Culturally, this is "knowledge as an elective". There's nothing wrong with taking a class and forgoing evaluations, coming out at the end of the course internally satisfied with what you think you know. But that's not how society, as a whole, evaluates that knowledge.

Accepting "I'm satisfied with what I think I know" is part of the reason people get away with making statements like "Einstein is wrong" or "Global warming doesn't exist" or "I don't believe in evolution" - whatever theories they retain internally have never been tested against the outside world, because it's never been demanded of them. While the majority does not define truth, statements of fact should at least be peer-reviewed, and ideally referenced against contemporary standards. Otherwise, we are codifying the Dunning-Kruger effect in education.

I have every sympathy for students who don't do well in certain forms of academic evaluation - that's why I provide a variety of tests, assignments and activities in my classes, none of them worth more than 15% of the course's final mark. A student can absolutely skip a class or fail to hand in an assignment, which will result in a 0 or diminished mark for that component... but it doesn't mean that they will fail the course, so long as the majority of their work is up to par.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 11:55 AM on June 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


mr roboto: policies are specific to department and in some departments specific to the professor. I'd definitely argue that the trend is towards more student-controlled deadlines. . . and certainly in many humanities departments extensions are granted just for asking.

My pesonal experience is the more control you give students over scheduling their own course (within reason eg. pick one of three due dates that works best for you) the better the result. Of course wthin current high school environments there is little opportunity for this. In the context of decreasing teacher pay and increasing class sizes, the micromanagement of grading becomes more and more difficult.
posted by mek at 11:55 AM on June 2, 2012


Because seriously, some of the smartest, wisest, most accomplished middle-aged adults I know had major issues getting through high school.

Would those adults have been better off by having the system coddle them? Would it have been better for the system to pass them, even when they deserved to fail?

It is the systems fault that they did not succeed at school, so we should make a system where everyone succeeds - which, if everyone succeeds, then success is a meaningless standard.
posted by Flood at 11:55 AM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I would like to hear from those that object to this policy why they assume receiving a zero for an assignment has any positive effect on a student. Preferably an answer that doesn't involve appeals to mythologies like "real life" and "tough love."
posted by Catchfire at 11:57 AM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I read with interest your articles about Lynden Dorval’s refusal to follow policy in the school in which I taught in Edmonton. It is unfortunate that his career is ending this way but not following policy has always been a reason for teachers to be fired – and I suspect if he was not following other policies you would agree and not call him a hero.

I do not understand why Mr. Dorval – and you – cannot understand that giving zeros is the opposite of accountability and/or responsibility. Giving a student a zero is giving them a pass to not do the assessment; accountability involves requiring the student to complete the assessment and, if they do not do it, being clear that the teacher will not have enough evidence to determine a grade so their grade will be “I” for Incomplete which means no credit.

Mr. Dorval is completely incorrect in claiming that the no zeros policy is attached to the self-esteem movement. The no zeros policy is attached to the movement for grades that are accurate, meaningful, consistent, and supportive of learning. -- Ken O’Connor
Taken from Educators speak out: the case for “No Zeros” policy.

The other side: the case against the “No Zeros” policy.
posted by mazola at 11:58 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is this typical at Canadian universities? It has not been my experience in the US. Deadlines are strict abscent a medical excuse.

An impossible generalization, given the number of universities in the US. I handed in plenty of papers late at my American college, always after telling the prof they'd be late, and never for medical reasons.
posted by rtha at 12:04 PM on June 2, 2012


Preferably an answer that doesn't involve appeals to mythologies like "real life"

I don't think it's possible, because it comes down to the question of what you're trying to achieve with the grading.

If the intent of the grade is only to measure and evaluate knowledge as best it can be done, then a zero is obviously not a correct grade.

If the intent of the grade is measure ability to perform and demonstrate that knowledge in a standard form on on demand, then a zero is obviously the correct grade.

But the difference between the two is the appeal to "real life" which you deride as a mythology. The person who has to employ the graduate may feel differently.
posted by tyllwin at 12:05 PM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's unfortunate that whoever has managed to brand the policy simply "no zeroes" when in fact it's about missed work and not poor performance (which are utterly different problems with non-similar solution needs). Was that stupid title the work of the people promoting the policy, or is it one of those loaded labels like abortion arguments are always filled with?

Before I read the article, I had a completely inappropriate gut reaction to this. I wonder how many people don't bother past that first step.
posted by trackofalljades at 12:09 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Real life" is a mythology for the simple reason that pre-graduation and post-graduation are both equally "real." What we generally call "real life" is often no more punitive than school is, often far less so -- people still show up late, shirk their work, make gamey excuses and still survive, even flourish. And there is no evidence that a few more zeroes on assignments would change this in any way.

If, however, a "no zero policy" encourages teachers to find unique and targeted solutions to the needs of each particular student rather than some gut-shot generalized flogging assumed to give students a lesson in hard knocks (when has that ever worked for problem students?), then I think it's a damn sight better than the alternative preferred heretofore.
posted by Catchfire at 12:18 PM on June 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


But the difference between the two is the appeal to "real life" which you deride as a mythology. The person who has to employ the graduate may feel differently.

Most of a person's working life happens long after they finish high school and grow up to be an adult. Do you really think an employer for someone who is 40 cares if they missed some assignments in 12th grade? And yet not having a high school diploma at age 40 because they failed out when they were a teenager significantly limits that person's ability to get a decent job and provide for a household.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:19 PM on June 2, 2012


I always assumed that working to meet inflexible and arbitrary deadlines was one of those Life Skills I was supposed to be learning.

Sometimes, but if Star Trek and Captain Kirk taught me anything when I was young, it's that the Life Skills of gaming the system, adapting and massaging circumstances to work for you on the fly, and knowing when to ignore the rules can sometimes be even more valuable (at times) than sharpening orderly, by-the-book behavior. Sure, it doesn't always work, and a strong set of ethics is required to keep from being just a conniving opportunistic asshole, but it does seem to make life more interesting.

That said, I respect a teacher that does not tolerate bullshit excuses. The best teachers I had were like that, and they tempered my 'inventive' solutions with a reasonable amount of discipline and work ethic. They made me earn any slack I received from them, and it was a fair deal in my eyes, and made me a better adult.

I support the teacher's side in this, though if the administration can demonstrate that it can hold firm when failure to complete work, after allowances have been given, is actually counted as failure even when it may negatively affect the school's graduation statistics, I think a reasonable compromise could be reached.

You don't want to lose these kind of teachers in a school.
posted by chambers at 12:20 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pater Aletheias: "I start teaching summer school on Monday, and my next batch of students is about to be introduced to my new zero tolerance policy. ... We'll see if that works any better."

Good luck, my optimistic, probably non-tenured friend. Your policy will work just fine until one of your students complains to your department chair or dean or vice president (or even - in a case I know about at my own school - THE PRESIDENT OF THE SCHOOL - by just walking in to her office and expecting an immediate audience). Then you will be told to "do something" about this student (because god forbid an administrator should get their hands dirty with actual issues that affect their faculty and students!), and there you are, right back to where you were before.

Excuse my cold, black, pessimistic heart. I really do hope you succeed.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:22 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you really think an employer for someone who is 40 cares if they missed some assignments in 12th grade?

No, of course not, because by 40, the individual has had ample time to create a work history that demonstrates their ability (or lack thereof) to perform on demand which far outweighs that ancient history. I would also imagine that if you're looking at people in their 40's for a job where the required credential is a high school diploma, you'd be entirely happy with a GED.
posted by tyllwin at 12:27 PM on June 2, 2012


I'm not buying the supposed arbitrariness of the school or deadlines on a pass/fail basis.

This particular teacher apparently would allow students to pass if they tuned in the assignments at any point during the class and reminded them of this.
posted by Winnemac at 12:29 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a veteran high school teacher and administrator, I must say this guy is a douchebag.

Setting aside the issue that the school has a grading policy and it is his job to follow it whether he likes it or not--and that he was free to change schools when the new policy was announced--his behavior is something I see every day: Teachers who believe they are the arbiters of knowledge, and for whom grades are like the the gold of a dragon's hoard--something to be protected and kept from others--rather than what they should be, which is a liberally applied informative measure to let students/guardians/counselors/administrators/other teachers know what a students is accomplishing and mastering, and what a student is struggling with.

You want to talk "real world"? Giving a student a zero on an assignment is like the boss telling an employee who was late to work to "suck my dick." In what "real world" scenario would that be okay?

The things teachers do and say to students, under the guise of "trying to help them" or "trying to prepare them for the real world" are often appalling lapses of social norms that would never be tolerated in a normal workplace.

Giving a student a zero, instead of giving a student an opportunity to earn a grade? I understand you think you're teaching the student a lesson, but you know what you should be teaching? Physics. You give high school educators everywhere a bad name. If I were your student, I would be egging your house right now.
posted by etc. at 12:36 PM on June 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


Giving a student a zero, instead of giving a student an opportunity to earn a grade?

He's giving zeroes at the end of the term for work that never appears after reminders. It appears if a student hands in work late, they don't take a penalty for that.
posted by hoyland at 12:41 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't give zeroes for missed work, either. It's meaningless. The problem is that grades are used for a whole bunch of different reasons. A grade as an assessment of mastery is one thing, whereas a grade for performance is another. A grade as a punishment or a reward is yet another thing (and ineffective and dysfunctional punishments and rewards, as well). I mostly require the work to be finished one way or the other, and help kids figure out how to do it.

Serious creative work such as papers and stories, the kids write in class; I assign practice, review, idea-generating, and research for homework, as well as reading, sometimes. I have never understood the idea of assigning major work to be done at home, without guidance; that way lies plagiarism, Spark Notes, failure, or tutors or parents doing the work.

My school is an independent school with a high tuition, so we also send e-mails home when a student misses an assignment, not as a punishment but as a heads-up. Our parents and our kids are very grade-conscious, in a way that sometimes misses a main point of an education. I realize my situation is different than that of many.

You'd think that by the end of the year, though, because they're so grade-conscious and because I don't give zeroes for missing work, my students would be less likely to hand things in and less interested in doing the work. They're more likely, and more interested. The last assignment of the year was one many mentioned as their favorite one in their course evaluations - and I never gave them their grade on it because they finished it (in school) on the last day of school.

A few of the kids who rarely managed to get their work handed in did the worst on the final exam. But it wasn't because they didn't hand their work in. It was because they are seriously afflicted in their ability, their coping strategies, their organization, or their emotional health. Generally speaking, kids who just don't do the homework do worse, because homework is best when it is practice.
posted by Peach at 12:42 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Perhaps it's for the best that, after years of opportunities to reform and follow the established grading policy, the administrators are giving Mr. Dorval a taste of his own approach.
posted by Nomyte at 12:42 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am working through the late 60s Hall Dennis Reports, which were supposed to guide Ontario Education policy, but in many ways never did. I also have a friend presently learning how to teach. One of the recommendations of the Hall/Dennis Report and one of the things that my friend Patrick says, 40 years apart, is something called ungrading, or not offering a grade for any work at all. The philosophy is that the simple act of grading is useless, and does not reflect learned expereince, and if you offer feedback with a grade, that the student worries about the grade, and not the feedback.

Speaking of "real life" (what ever the fuck that means), is an interesting comparasion, because in a lot of jobs, from MacDonalds on up, you never get a grade, but what you do get, is verbal or written notes on your performance--what you are doing well, what you are struggling with, how you can work better--it encourages a kind of discourse.

Also, as has been stated, if you keep not doing homework, its most likely because other shit is going on--for me, it was violent, and systematic homophobia and an inability for teachers to adjust to my autism and depression, but whatevs. (I also have a master's degree but only a GED and no undergrad)
posted by PinkMoose at 12:46 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with most grading systems is that despite appearing objective to many people, they are not. Additionally, grades themselves mean many different things to many different people and to assume that everyone is going to see grades the same way is an exercise in futility. Most importantly, not every teacher and most certainly not every parent or politician understands statistics and the sort of arithmetic behind grading systems.

No-zeroes policies are in place for a simple reason: since you cannot control perception and interpretation of grades and you cannot assume the ability of a teacher or parent to understand the impact a single zero can have, you must paint grades in the most positive light possible. Eliminating zeroes is a very easy way to get this done.

Grading is a weird thing and for people to think that 'diplomas will mean less if grades are flexible' is absurd. You cannot hope to pin outside assessment of someone's actual ability upon their grade in most classes.

I do not give zeroes and I inflate student grades. I tell everyone this up front.

I do this for a host of reasons, the most important of which is this: outside of the course, grades are meaningless. I know who knows basic biology and who doesn't in my room. Kids who don't complete work and don't know their stuff get a C or a C-. C- is the lowest grade i normally give and mommy and daddy know that if their precious little turd gets a C- in my class, that it is like getting an E (F to baby boomers) in other classes.

Additionally - anyone with half a brain won't trust a C- student with that knowledge any more than they will an E student, but the C- student doesn't have an E dragging them down. They don't have to repeat the grade and they don't have to attend summer school.

I know they don't know it, outsiders can probably figure out they don't know it, the student and their parents know they don't know the material, but this one gap in their knowledge doesn't hold them back at a later date. I'm not writing a student out of a later opportunity in another field and i'm not keeping them from relearning the material in a different way later.

I feel that people who are 'against no-zeroes policies' don't really understand how education really works or were in that sweet spot intellectually where school was easy for them, but they aren't smart or empathic enough to understand that it's a different experience for each person.
posted by Fuka at 12:58 PM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


You do realize that this happened in an IB program - the highest honors level class.
We are not talking about kids that are struggling at the bottom tier and not surviving in school.

These are supposed to be the best and the brightest. The IB program is designed to identify the best and brightest. The classes they take are weighted - so, an B in an IB class is like an A in a regular class.

In what reality are the best students allowed to not hand in homework, and then still be classified as the best students? If you can't hand in homework, then you have no business in IB - because there are other kids dying to get into the class, who will work hard.
posted by Flood at 1:08 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Here are some educators in favour of "No-Zero policies".
posted by Amity at 1:10 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Public education is full of absurd and harmful practices. Why is this teacher choosing to die on this particular hill?
posted by gentian at 1:11 PM on June 2, 2012


I feel that people who are 'against no-zeroes policies' don't really understand how education really works or were in that sweet spot intellectually where school was easy for them, but they aren't smart or empathic enough to understand that it's a different experience for each person.

That's a pretty broad generalization of the opposition to non-zero grading, which I find kind of ironic when you're suggesting that everyone's experience is different.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 1:13 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I appreciate the links to the educators in favor of the "no-zero policies" - I actually think their points warrant consideration.

I have to admit, though, that I don't understand how this can be implemented in practice. If a student doesn't do any work, then the "cannot assess" grade is appropriate, and I think much more useful than a "F". It's the cases in the middle that I don't understand how an educator can handle. Let's say a student fails to complete one of 20 assignments in the class. I'm personally comfortable with letting that slide. Although it leads to the problem of students skipping the least interesting/most difficult assignment, I'm willing to tolerate that. What about the student that fails to complete 5 of 20 assignments? What about 10 of 10 assignments? It seems to me that such a policy inevitably leads to a de facto line where you can skip a certain number of assignments. As previous posters have indicated, I don't understand how this does not lead to massive laziness for the majority of students who are neither amazingly dedicated to school and turn in all of their assignments nor are the disillusioned students that do nothing in school.
posted by saeculorum at 1:18 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


/shrug whatever. I don't find it dismissive as much as sad. Realize, that i'm speaking from a decade of experience as an educator.

In re: the IB thing. Most of the universities those kids attend inflate grades and ameliorate zeroes in some way.
posted by Fuka at 1:18 PM on June 2, 2012


if everyone succeeds, then success is a meaningless standard.

We either killed the wildebeest, and ate, or we didn't, and we starved. This was true irrespective of whether we starved because the other group killed the wildebeest instead, or because the wildebeest simply escaped. Likewise, if we killed and ate, then our hunt was successful regardless of whether the other people killed and ate. Competition may change the probabilities of the various outcomes, but success and failure are not defined in terms of the competition, but in terms of the objective outcome even when success incidentally entails increasing the probability of others' failure (by e.g. depleting the wildebeest population).

In the context of a classroom, there isn't some kind of conservation law for knowledge, so learning is not inherently competitive.

What you're saying is also impractical. For example, in almost every graduate course I took or marked papers for, just about everybody routinely did really excellent work, and fucking about/not attempting work/etc. was vanishingly rare. Generally, there would be one or two students whose performance was sort of awe-inspiring, and everyone else was, on average, merely excellent. Should the excellent people have failed? Of course not. When objective measures of success exist, they are external, and the consequences of failure are external. Competition is epiphenomenal, and anyone who can deal with actual difficulties need never worry about their ability to compete.

It's totally unproblematic if the grades in a course are not normally distributed, and it's unproblematic if everyone fails or if everyone gets an A, as long as the grades reflect what they learned reasonably well. The notion that success only exists as a foil for failure is silly.
posted by kengraham at 1:26 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ultimately, the material you actually learn in high school is not the point of high school. High school is a demonstration of the fact that in life you will regularly encounter ridiculous rules that you have to deal with.
If the rule is no work = zero, you deal by either doing the work, or making a separate arrangement with the teacher.
A zero is just an indication that you're doing something wrong. Sometimes life hands you a zero, so you may as well learn to deal with it, in whatever way you choose, while you can.
posted by Karmeliet at 1:36 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It matters greatly WHY a student hasn't completed work. If teachers or administrators actually care about a given student it behooves them to find out what the reason is. Is the student experiencing personal problems, emotional health issues, abuse, ill health? Or are the assignments meaningless busywork that the student refuses to do because they have an independent spirit and have better things to spend their time on? The former should be cause for intervention, and the latter should be cause for the teacher to re-evaluate their assessment methods.

In neither case does a zero actually help the student.
posted by parrot_person at 1:49 PM on June 2, 2012


it's unproblematic if everyone fails or if everyone gets an A, as long as the grades reflect what they learned reasonably well.

If everyone is getting an A, how does that reflect what they learned -
or are you assuming that all kids are super-stars and are equally intelligent.
posted by Flood at 1:52 PM on June 2, 2012


If everyone is getting an A, how does that reflect what they learned -
or are you assuming that all kids are super-stars and are equally intelligent.


Not equally intelligent, but rather all sufficiently intelligent/motivated/well-prepared to accomplish the specific, external goals of the course. This is perfectly possible; I gave some anecdata above.

On the last assignment I marked, the students were required to compute the homology groups of the real projective plane. All of them did this correctly. Who should not have been given credit for this problem?

(Also: what does intelligence have to do with anything, here? Large intelligence is often useful (or even definitionally useful) for learning things, and thus often correlated with high grades (with numerous important exceptions). Why would one want to grade intelligence separately?)
posted by kengraham at 2:05 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It matters greatly WHY a student hasn't completed work.

It matters some why a student hasn't completed work. Having been a teacher, I'm not prepared to say it matters greatly. The odds of an honest-to-goodness legitimate excuse are pretty damn low. The odds of something which amounts to some version of "I didn't feel like it" are incredibly high. I can't for the life of me think of a reason why public schools should be catering to the latter.

If teachers or administrators actually care about a given student it behooves them to find out what the reason is.

True. Lots of kids have crappy home lives. I'm not convinced that's the teacher's problem.

Is the student experiencing personal problems, emotional health issues, abuse, ill health?

Quite possibly. Some of those things the teacher can do something about. Most of them he can't. Again, many students have crappy home lives. The idea that the public school system is how to fix that has never made a lick of sense to me. Teachers are teachers, not substitute parents. It's intensely ironic that the schools have largely abandoned in loco parentis in meting out discipline while doubled down on it in actually trying to raise kids. So while schools aren't really allowed to take decisive action in getting kids to play ball, they're supposed to correct for the fact that they're from terrible home situations. How, exactly?

Or are the assignments meaningless busywork that the student refuses to do because they have an independent spirit and have better things to spend their time on?

Again quite possibly. But 1) they being high school students, the odds that they legitimately have something better to spend their time on aren't fantastic, and 2) the sooner they lose that "independent spirit" the better off everyone's probably going to be.

Life is busywork. Learn to deal with it.
posted by valkyryn at 2:06 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


the students were required to compute the homology groups of the real projective plane. All of them did this correctly. Who should not have been given credit for this problem?

In that case, they all deserve credit for that assignment. But, when one kid does not hand in the assignment, does he deserve credit too?

I don't knwo where or what you teach - but I attended at top tier law school - and the grades were curved. Someone, at least one person, got a D in every class - every student there was highly intelligent, highly motivated, and understood the material well - but some understood it better than others. How are the law firms going to know which students are truly the best if they all have the same grade? What is the point of grading at all if they all have the same grades? Why bother to do any work, if you know we are all going to get an A?

How could you possible think that giving every kid an A on every assignment is a rational grading system? Not everyone is equal, and grades should reflect ability. Those that have the greatest skill level deserve recognition. Those who do not even bother to do the work also deserve recognition.
posted by Flood at 2:18 PM on June 2, 2012


if everyone succeeds, then success is a meaningless standard.

or, you know, Socialism.

Life is busywork. Learn to deal with it.

No.
posted by philip-random at 2:18 PM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


How are the law firms going to know which students are truly the best if they all have the same grade?

That is their problem, not the high school/university/law school's problem. The point of education is to teach things, not to externalize a business's hiring costs.

How could you possible think that giving every kid an A on every assignment is a rational grading system?

I didn't say that. I said that a grading system in which everyone happens to get an A is unproblematic if it reflects the fact that everyone learned everything.

Not everyone is equal, and grades should reflect ability.

No, grades should respect performance. What anyone "is" is irrelevant. The performance of different people is generally unequal, but, should it happen to be the same, the grades should acknowledge that.

but some understood it better than others

If that is the case, then those that understood it better should get a higher grade. I have not disputed this. Instead, I provided an example of an instance in which, to the extent that the assignment was able to measure, everyone understood a particular concept the same amount.
posted by kengraham at 2:26 PM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


"reflect", not "respect".
posted by kengraham at 2:29 PM on June 2, 2012


How can anyone learn everything? Maybe in 8th grade math class, a kid can learn everything -
but in the law, or other complex subjects, you can devote your life to the study of contracts, and still not not it all.

And besides that - the initial article is about a kid who did not even do the assignment at all - in an IB top level honors class. And he was given credit for the assignment! And that is patently absurd.
posted by Flood at 2:32 PM on June 2, 2012


Why bother to do any work, if you know we are all going to get an A?

Not only did I not propose automatically giving everyone an A, I also find it sad that you apparently don't acknowledge that students might be motivated by things other than grades.
posted by kengraham at 2:35 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


How can anyone learn everything?

I don't know. It happens, though, that everyone's learning is equal to whatever the extent the given assignment can distinguish between two people's learning.

The class in my example was a topology course for first-year math graduate students. I'm sure nobody understood "everything", but, when asked a question with a specific, unambiguous right answer, they all answered correctly.

So, it is unproblematic that in some instances everyone gets an A, or everyone fails. That is all I have claimed, here.
posted by kengraham at 2:39 PM on June 2, 2012


And he was given credit for the assignment! And that is patently absurd.

Agreed.
posted by kengraham at 2:40 PM on June 2, 2012


Diplomas ≠ Participant ribbons
posted by Thorzdad at 2:43 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think he probably ought to be fired, even though he's correct - because it's not his decision to make.

Wow. Subsume yourself to Authority and ignore your conscience. Unthinkingly toe the line.

I'm glad there are some teachers who don't hide behind such a philosophy.
posted by longsleeves at 2:53 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would like to hear from those that object to this policy why they assume receiving a zero for an assignment has any positive effect on a student.

This seems like a malformed question: what positive effect does grounding a child have? I don't object to the policy, but it does seem like one reason to give zeros, or Fs, is to provide an incentive to do the work. Getting the zero is a punishment, the presence of which prevents its frequent use.

The reason I don't mind this policy is because it prevents or at least tries to prevent punishment spirals, where students simply disengage and accept all the negative consequences. But that comes at a cost to the incentive function.

It should also be noted that these kinds of policies tend to be used and defended for the very privileged, and so sometimes the defense seems a bit like a defense of privilege. If it is truly better, then I'd prefer to see folks start promoting this policy for the least advantaged rather than IB students.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:00 PM on June 2, 2012


This is my confession. I have contributed to the ongoing mediocrity of my students by not expecting more and better of them. I thought I was doing them a favor, but I was hurting them in the long run.

No, you're just a bad teacher.

I've done my fair share of teaching and it became obvious to me after about 72 hours that forcing students to do work under the threat of failure is completely pointless. It benefits absolutely nobody. People are slowly starting to catch on that in fact too much homework is bad but it's a very slow, torturous change so I expect we'll see idiotic hot-shots like this teacher who inflict "zero tolerance" on the kids.

Look, the point is to learn. This is the single criteria, the only requirement, the reason for the hoopla. Whether children are good at filling out forms on time is completely beside the point.

if everyone succeeds, then success is a meaningless standard.

I can't even begin to understand such stupid thoughtlessness. But I do take comfort that those people who really think school is some kind of competition, that somehow the best "lose" something when the worst are given a second chance or a leg up -- these are the people who tend not to become teachers. They are selfish and stupid people and couldn't hack a single day in a classroom. Any real teacher with half a brain and a heart knows that having a few kids pass and the rest fail is a disaster and a sure sign of a bad teacher. The goal is to help all those who can be helped.
posted by nixerman at 3:14 PM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


You will need to follow arbitrary rules and do things to time limits you do not want to follow. You will have to do this throughout your life. So it is okay that schools start to teach this by penalising late work.

In fact, it is one of the life skills that schools should teach. They are doing a disservice if they don't. I'll bet that really expensive private schools penalize you if you hand in work late.

However, a good school should regard low scores on whatever metric as a thing to be fixed. So "Fred gets 0 for late submissions" should result in "Fred needs some help in understanding that work needs to be on time." Coaching, parental involvement, whatever. Rather than "Fred is crap, throw him on the rubbish heap." That's poor schooling. And not particularly related to whether Fred gets 0 for not doing work.

So Fred learns to hand in work on time, and when he goes out into the world he has that valuable life skill.

As always, measures in education are good for identifying areas for improvement, and bad for identifying moral failure. It has been thus ever since the IQ test. But they still measure, and they still provide information on failure.

So it's okay to give 0 for lateness. It's a failure. Then you should fix it.
posted by alasdair at 3:25 PM on June 2, 2012


This, combined with rampant copying, is why I grade almost nothing done outside the classroom.

That said, having everybody pass is most often a sign that the expectations have been set too low. Of course, teachers are screwed on this: if you set high expectations and grade fairly, you get in trouble when too many fail/get low grades, because current theory is to hold teachers accountable for student learning, but not students; if you pass everybody, you get in trouble for grade inflation.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 3:33 PM on June 2, 2012


A grade is just the stick part of the carrot and stick. So...in the end, liberal minded educators believe students are supposed to think the stick is fair, just and there to help them?

Fuck that.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:46 PM on June 2, 2012


You will need to follow arbitrary rules and do things to time limits you do not want to follow

It takes an adult in their first job about 10 minutes to 10 days (depending on the person) to learn this. It's not really something we have to start teaching in 5th grade. What also happens in the workplace is that hard work goes unrewarded. But you won't find a teacher telling kids that -- in fact, they often tell kids the exact opposite.

What we really fail to teach children in school (or anywhere) is how to respond, collectively, to arbitrary rules (arbitrary power).

My opinion about grades is that they're only good for kids who excel and as a way of evaluating teachers (actually, as a way of demonstrating THAT teachers are being evaluated - not actually legitimately evaluating their work -- grades can't do that). Grades exist so that some children can be distinguished as superior to other children, and their parents can prove it.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:47 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, you're just a bad teacher.

Does he get a zero?

It's ironic that so many people who are quick to evaluate teachers without having seen their work are objecting to teachers for assigning bad grades to students whose work is not available to evaluate. At least, I think it's irony: I never did much homework in middle school English classes.

Seriously, though, I think a lot of the acrimony in this thread is tied to equivocation about the kinds of students we're talking about: obviously, a kindergartner who doesn't turn work in on time is in need of behavioral interventions, not bad grades. A law student who doesn't study for exams is working under different conditions and it seems a bit more reasonable to evaluate them on their failures to meet deadlines.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:11 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


>You will need to follow arbitrary rules and do things to time limits you do not want to follow

It takes an adult in their first job about 10 minutes to 10 days (depending on the person) to learn this.


You'd be surprised. I've had co-workers who never really seemed to figure it out. Which is why they kept bouncing between McJobs while blaming their supervisors for being hardasses.
posted by valkyryn at 4:52 PM on June 2, 2012


You'd be surprised. I've had co-workers who never really seemed to figure it out. Which is why they kept bouncing between McJobs while blaming their supervisors for being hardasses.

Yes, of course. Me too. But its really not because society didn't start teaching them early enough.

And the fact they are getting along somehow suggests that teaching kids when they're young about arbitrary rules really isn't preparing them for the way the world is, because the world actually isn't. Or, at least, it isn't for everyone.

It seems we're using a lot of fancy terms (like "behavioral intervention") when what we really mean is "shut up and do what you're told, the way you're told, when you're told."

In the US, we're telling teachers that too. They're often just passing it along.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:43 PM on June 2, 2012


i like how he protests his inability to punish students who don't submit to his academic authority by not submitting to HIS academic authority. as below, as above, so to speak.
posted by gorestainedrunes at 5:44 PM on June 2, 2012


the sooner they lose that "independent spirit" the better off everyone's probably going to be.

Nope.
posted by nushustu at 5:48 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


if everyone succeeds, then success is a meaningless standard.

Ugh, fuck that social darwinist bullshit (also, it's funny how it's always lions who champion social darwinism, never the gazelles). These are schools; they aren't the afterlife with some scales of justice. The goal is to teach knowledge; grades are a means to that end, and there is precious little evidence a zero aids that quest. And tonnes of real data saying that it doesn't.
posted by smoke at 6:04 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


"If the intent of the grade is measure ability to perform and demonstrate that knowledge in a standard form on on demand, then a zero is obviously the correct grade. But the difference between the two is the appeal to "real life" which you deride as a mythology. "

Because in adult life we all work at the same jobs and are all evaluated according to the same standard form.

Wait, no we're not.

My district's been going back and forth with a no-zero policy, and I'm not sure I'm totally on board with the no-zero thing. But it makes me want to cringe and/or scream whenever someone says, "In the real world, they'll get zeroes." First of all, no, in the real world, there's a lot of wiggle room, and in the real world, there are a wide variety of different jobs that require different attitudes, aptitudes, standards of success and remuneration, and so on. In school, students do not have those choices.

Secondly, we're not talking about the adult "real" world. We're talking about children in a learning environment who are under the care of adults who are helping to shape, mold, and educate these children. They're not slaves at the gulag who've got to march in line or die. Jesus. Children deserve to be protected and nurtured and supported, and a hell of a lot of children have terrible shit going on at home that makes it hard for them to learn. And a hell of a lot of children struggle to fit into a standard school environment even with a great homelife. Giving those children differentiated support and interventions that suit their needs is literally pretty much the LEAST a civilized society can do for them.

(Incidentally, the two curriculum-related things that serve as the greatest troll-bait to the community are a no-zero policy, which brings out people who hate welfare and complain that no-zero policies DIRECTLY create welfare queens, and any change whatsoever to how arithmetic is taught. IT'S LIKE YOU ARE SLAPPING NUNS.)

Our grading committee is like 90% teachers and just has a couple administrators from the curriculum department, and most districts around here are similar. So this may not be an edict handed down from on high but what the majority of the teaching staff supports as appropriate. That said, I think some of our teachers would strangle one another over this issue.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:31 PM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also, incidentally, a lot of our students who struggle and get zeroes do JUST FINE in the "real world" because once they're in the real world, they understand why it matters. One of our most successful interventions for students who routinely fail to turn in assignments is an alternative program where they spend half their school week working, and half their school week in intensive classes. Because working matters to them and they're great at it, and once it starts tying in with their school work (their classes reflect things that are important at work, and their managers at work are also part of the program and serve as teachers and mentors who do more than "just" supervise them at work), the school work matters too.

These aren't fancy jobs; one of our biggest employer-partners is a local grocery store and students work as checkers and stock clerks. Just normal teenaged jobs.

Obviously this isn't successful for all students and some of them cannot be bothered to learn how to function in ANY kind of world, but it's our single most successful intervention with students failing to function in a standard school environment. Which puts the lie to the "real world" bullshit.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:38 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm sadly not surprised that it's only the high school science teacher fighting back against this. Grade inflation at the university level is relatively non existent in STEM departments; devaluation of standards is regarded as much more hazardous in some disciplines than others, I guess. (At least until you start looking for a job after graduation...)

I learned the following from one particularly wise humanities professor who held all of us in his philosophy class to a high standard:

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. --Aristotle
posted by Estraven at 6:42 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


not having a high school diploma at age 40 because they failed out when they were a teenager significantly limits that person's ability to get a decent job and provide for a household.

Then anyone who wants to get such a good job should make sure to do well in high school.

There isn't some inalienable right to earn a high enough income to be able to pay for a whole household full of people.

You seem to think everyone should get a high school diploma no matter what, which would make high school diplomas meaningless.
posted by John Cohen at 7:42 PM on June 2, 2012


Anyone who consistently fails remedial high school courses either

1) Has an undiagnosed learning disability or other psychological disorder
2) Has a very abusive home life
or 3) Doesn't give a shit AT ALL and needs an attitude adjustment

In the first two cases, professional help OUTSIDE of school is needed, and in the third case giving a free pass is not going to help. It's not difficult for a good teacher to tell when a student is really struggling but just not getting it, or is just putting in zero effort.

Those of you who say that in real jobs you're allowed leeway are right of course. That's a false analogy though, because we're talking about students who don't do ANY work, not those who miss an assignment or two. People who consistently don't do work at their job are fired, sorry.

Not getting a high school diploma is not tantamount to being condemned to live a life of struggle. Anybody can get a GED later, go to a community college, and transfer to a university. And if you're such a damn gifted artist that you won't need a traditional job, then a diploma shouldn't matter much anyway.

Failing kids who do zero or barely any work with no excuse isn't unfair to them. Passing kids who do no work is unfair to the kids worked hard for years toward a goal and should have a reason to feel proud of it.
posted by WhitenoisE at 11:19 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had an optimization class once, with the following policy:

1) If you took a test, and got a poor score, you were stuck with it
2) If you missed the test, it didn't count.

Four people took the midterm, out of thirty. The professor was incensed...until I explained that we'd optimized for the case wherein we achieved a superior grade on the final than we would on the midterm.

It was an optimization class, after all. Believe it or not, he accepted my explanation.
posted by effugas at 12:53 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are several things going on here that aren't necessarily clear to anyone who hasn't taught. First, grade inflation sucks and anything that smacks of grade inflation is going to strike many educators as wrong, even though many others will argue otherwise. Especially in high school, where grades are essentially "meaningless" as so many above have argued. Weighted classes, extra credit, all that crap - there is no way anyone should be passing high school with a 5.0 average on a 4.0 scale. It's absurd. All of these grades are scaled back to a 4.0 scale by admissions committees anyway - all this accomplishes is devaluing the work of the students who legitimately earned a 4.0 in standard courses, by telling them the accelerated or honors course students deserve more credit for the same performance effort.

Second, there is a very real issue with accountability. In my mind, doing the work on time is not something outside the scope of the assignment: turning it in on time is PART of the assignment, and someone who cannot do this should be penalized. How this penalty applies is the root issue here. The system says there should be no penalty, the teacher disagrees. My policy for assignments with set deadlines was simple: you could miss one, no questions asked. You were graded only on the best of the remaining scores. If you did all of them, you had one extra shot to boost your grade.

I taught with another guy who had an interesting approach. He had a policy stating that if your final exam score was better than the average of all your other test scores, your final grade would be set by your final exam score alone.

Either of these approaches seems better to me than allowing makeups for all missed assignments. Turning things in on time is part of the assignment. If there is no penalty for that, what does this tell the students who did do the work on time? At the very least there should be a penalty (I did once allow late turn-ins, with a 10%/day late deduction).

Finally, workload. We hear a lot about the massive piles of homework students bring home from school, but never hear anything about how goddamned difficult it is to grade all of that. My dad is an elementary school principal, my stepmom is a 3rd grade teacher. The mountains of stuff the bring home and the time they spend staying up late to wade through it... It's insane. And it isn't as if they have full control over this stuff, either; in many places the push for better assessment dictates more assignments per student.

Now take this and add in the necessity of rewriting and re-grading assignments that were missed. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to write a good, fair, exam? And then to have to write an entirely new exam that is equally fair for a student who didn't bother to show up for the first one? This no-missed-assignment policy is very easy to mandate but is enormously burdensome to the educators, especially when you take into account the fact that we demand elementary school teachers have Masters degrees but can't be bothered to pay them a decent wage for the privilege of educating our kids.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:13 AM on June 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Incidentally, the two curriculum-related things that serve as the greatest troll-bait to the community are a no-zero policy, which brings out people who hate welfare and complain that no-zero policies DIRECTLY create welfare queens,

This is interesting to me. Clearly this community also has strong feelings on the matter, both ways. Yet though these kinds of questions are part of my professional life (where I'm fairly comfortable with experimenting with new strategies and policies) I've never had the discussion in public, and I'm struck by the number of different positions that folks deeply and passionately advocate as inerrantly correct.

Is this just a special case of people's conflicting intuitions about justice, or is it the result of leftover childhood trauma from various mistreatments? Or are those the same thing?
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:54 AM on June 3, 2012


I teach philosophy at a university, and zero is actually a fairly common grade even on completed assignments. It's astonishing how many students just write complete and unadulterated bullshit. Honestly, out of every 100 answers to a given essay question on an exam, about 10% deserve (and receive) zeros. It's utterly baffling. Well, not so baffling I guess, since about half of those students don't come to class.

After a few years of teaching, I developed the following theory about how (many) students read and write about the material: they remember a few prominent words they've read or heard in lecture. They ask themselves "I wonder what a word that sounds like that might mean?" and then ask themselves "I wonder what kind of sentence a word like that might appear in?" Then the write down some of those sentences, and glue them together with whichever other sentences happen to occur to them. The result is answers that are so wrong that there is no reasonable grade other than zero.

It's not fair to anybody--not fair to the good students, not fair to the instructor, not fair to society, not fair (as it were) to the truth, and not even fair to the crappy students--that such answers be given anything other than zero. The crappy students come to believe that they can write down any old nonsense they like, and it will be worth something. That just makes no sense.

Professors fall into the trap of desperately trying to spin nonsense into something resembling sense...and that's just wrong. (Some do it out of misplaced compassion. Some do it to avoid the problems that attend teaching rigorous courses. The former is excusable; the latter is not.) Grade accurately, and let the cards fall where they may. It's irresponsible to do otherwise, and otherwise it turns education (or "education") into a joke and a waste of time.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:10 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, I'm not a mean guy, nor a particularly hard grader. The rest of the distribution looks pretty normal. And the roughly 10% zeros thing goes only for intro classes, largely filled with kids with vocational majors and suchlike.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:19 AM on June 3, 2012


smoke: The goal is to teach knowledge; grades are a means to that end, and there is precious little evidence a zero aids that quest. And tonnes of real data saying that it doesn't."

I've seen a lot of claims about the existence of "real data" for this; I'd be interested in seeing some of that. I'm under the impression that evaluating policies like this verges on being impossible. I'd be very interested in having that notion either validated or disproved.

posted by ChrisR at 8:21 AM on June 3, 2012


It's not fair to anybody--not fair to the good students, not fair to the instructor, not fair to society, not fair (as it were) to the truth, and not even fair to the crappy students--that such answers be given anything other than zero. The crappy students come to believe that they can write down any old nonsense they like, and it will be worth something. That just makes no sense.

My own policy, particularly with philosophy, is simply to reject assignments. I see absolutely no purpose in giving a student a really bad grade and going home because the job is not to grade, the job is to teach. And so when students have handed nonsense to me I've handed it right back to them. In one case I did it almost immediately. (I've also asked students to leave my class and never come back because they simply don't belong there. This is a luxury I enjoyed that many teachers don't unfortunately.) This policy of essentially allowing "infinite do-overs" (I had one student hand in the same assignment 7 times) was very controversial initially and there was a big argument about "fairness" and the like. And the most interesting thing was that even the students to whom the policy was most "unfair" mostly advocated for it. The biggest whiners were in fact other teachers...

Finally, workload. We hear a lot about the massive piles of homework students bring home from school, but never hear anything about how goddamned difficult it is to grade all of that.

So then why do teachers assign so much homework? It's complete nonsense. How can a student go to school for 7 hours a day and then come home and have 2-3 hours (sometimes more) of homework. As an adult, is this something you would accept? There is a terrible, almost mind-boggling misallocation of time when it comes to American education. Homework, I'm increasingly convinced, should simply be eliminated. It does, in reality, more much more harm than good. And I've never been surprised that many of the most successful schools (like Finland) assign no more than half an hour a night of it. (There is also much more focus on equality and this just goes back to the larger point that schools aren't a ranking mechanism, created to prioritize children according to some arbitrary scale.)
posted by nixerman at 9:05 AM on June 3, 2012


Homework, I'm increasingly convinced, should simply be eliminated. It does, in reality, more much more harm than good.

This is a matter of much debate and research in education, and there's lots of evidence on both sides, but the 'truth is probably somewhere in between' consensus is that:

* well-designed homework almost certainly improves achievement. Poorly-designed homework is useless.
* there is a point of diminishing returns past which more homework has little effect.
* this point is much farther along for high school kids than middle school than elementary school

Now, whether it should be mandatory/graded is a separate issue. I generally take the 'this is for your own benefit; do it if you need to' approach, but recognize that it may not work the same in other subjects.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 9:27 AM on June 3, 2012


After a few years of teaching, I developed the following theory about how (many) students read and write about the material: they remember a few prominent words they've read or heard in lecture. They ask themselves "I wonder what a word that sounds like that might mean?" and then ask themselves "I wonder what kind of sentence a word like that might appear in?" Then the write down some of those sentences, and glue them together with whichever other sentences happen to occur to them. The result is answers that are so wrong that there is no reasonable grade other than zero.

I would love to see this become a blog. Maybe call it No Reasonable Grade.
posted by philip-random at 9:56 AM on June 3, 2012


And the roughly 10% zeros thing goes only for intro classes, largely filled with kids with vocational majors and suchlike.
Oh, you mean the kids who didn't grow up in a print-rich environment, who are likely the first in their families to attend college, who probably don't have redundant resources to help them figure out how to succeed in critical thinking? Don't you think you, as a teacher, owe them a little more than you do all your little upper-middle class geniuses who got the hard questions right on the first try? Why did you get into education, anyway?
posted by toodleydoodley at 10:37 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do this for a host of reasons, the most important of which is this: outside of the course, grades are meaningless. I know who knows basic biology and who doesn't in my room. Kids who don't complete work and don't know their stuff get a C or a C-. C- is the lowest grade i normally give and mommy and daddy know that if their precious little turd gets a C- in my class, that it is like getting an E (F to baby boomers) in other classes.

Oh god, no. This is the worst stuff. This only applies if everyone is doing this equally. Outside your course, grades are not meaningless. Grades are what are used to compete for colleges and ultimately, positions at various firms. When you give a C+ for complete ignorance for one student, you are actually harming the student in another's teachers' class who got a C- for actual but imperfect knowledge, but will have a lower chance of getting into the classes and college they want, because of your inflated grading policy.

This doesn't happen in a vaccum. Those students do deserve zeros, because the other students who completed their assignments will otherwise not receive any reward for their hard work.
posted by corb at 10:50 AM on June 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


if everyone succeeds, then success is a meaningless standard.

This is insane. Absolutely insane. It's meaningless to learn math unless there is also someone that does not learn it?
posted by Authorized User at 1:14 PM on June 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Grading is a weird thing and for people to think that 'diplomas will mean less if grades are flexible' is absurd

Actually, they literally do mean less; many college admissions use a weighting system that devalues grades from schools that inflate them (which is ironic, because colleges are the worst offenders on this). By giving the incapable students a C, you're very literally hurting the ability of the top students to get into competitive colleges, because their A is worth less (or would be, if you taught high school).

It also causes a lot of pointless trauma later on when they encounter a rigorous grader; neither a D nor a C is failing, but they all have come up seeing it that way. If they learned from the beginning that a C is average, and not a personal failing, everybody would be better off.

Now, whether somebody should be prevented from graduating because they suck at XXXX subject is a different matter, and I try to never fail anybody who has made any attempt to learn.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 1:37 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, you mean the kids who didn't grow up in a print-rich environment, who are likely the first in their families to attend college, who probably don't have redundant resources to help them figure out how to succeed in critical thinking? Don't you think you, as a teacher, owe them a little more than you do all your little upper-middle class geniuses who got the hard questions right on the first try? Why did you get into education, anyway?

LOOOL what nonsense. You have no idea what you're talking about. Students who turn in such nonsense haven't even tried. They're used to getting 'C's or, at worst, non-zero 'F's for utter nonsense. It has nothing to do with advantages or disadvantages that the students have.

and, just for the record, I'm routinely praised by good students as one of or the best teacher in a pretty good department.

If a student turns in an assignment that is 0% correct, then the correct grade is 0. Why should such students be graded on different standards than other students? Students who turn in assignments that are 85% correct get '85's. Students that turn in assignments that are 62% correct get '62's. You seem to want some special treatment for students who turn in assignments that are 0% correct. I have no idea how you could defend such a double standard.

Glad *you* didn't go into education...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:47 PM on June 3, 2012


I actually do understand the philosophy behind not letting students just "give up" and accept a zero. High school is not university, and it is important for students to receive a lot of support and encouragement to help them succeed, especially at the lower grades. But I really feel for the teachers who are supposed to run an effective, efficient, pedagogically sound classroom while also having to pursue multiple students for the missing work, make new versions of tests to be administered after the original one, and figure out "alternate ways" for students to show their knowledge with different assignments. It might be possible if you only had one class of, say, 25 students, but that's not the reality for most high school teachers. Usually you would multiply that by at least five. What an organizational nightmare.

I also can't help but think there would be pedagogical difficulties when students do their assignments out of order, or do them all at once in a big clump at the end of the semester (both scenarios have been described to me by frustrated high school teachers). My assignments, especially in intro courses, are carefully designed so that the first one allows them to develop skills that are necessary for the second one, and so on until the end of the course. Each assignment is also an opportunity for me to give them feedback and steer them in the right direction for the next one. For example, my intro composition classes have a major research paper due the end of the semester. But we start working on it many weeks in advance: first they do a research skills assignment, then an annotated bibliography, then an essay outline, then a rough draft, THEN their final draft. I've purposely built in lots of little steps. It makes no sense for students to do the annotated bib or outline after they've turned in their final draft, because those assignments weren't busywork; they were intended to scaffold the student's learning and help them succeed with the final draft. Doing them out of order renders them much less meaningful in terms of completing the final assignment.

And finally, although someone upthread mentioned that undergraduate courses can feature long extensions on assignments and flexible due dates, that is often not the case. I've had so many first year students, fresh out of high school, who really did not understand that they had to hand in their work and take tests at specific times during the semester. They had never encountered this before, and it was a shock to their systems. Learning to work to deadline (even flexible deadlines) is an important skill, one that used to be taught in high school, but now seems to be falling to 1) employers or 2) postsecondary institutions. Is this a bad thing? I don't know. But it is certainly disconcerting for a student who has never had a firm deadline to go to a situation that is suddenly full of them. I'm not sure it's very fair to anyone.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:21 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Threw out a science teacher after 35 years of acceptable service? Gotta be more behind the story.

As for no zeroes? OK, I'd give them ones. No ones? Twos.

You're supposed to separate behavior from grading? What happens when the students get together and agree to all do poorly? (yeah, they'll do stuff like that, esp. if you grade on a curve).

Easy marking and grade inflation marks the ruination of schooling. You set a standard, you expect the students to achieve that standard (by asking intelligent questions) and you let them fail if they don't. "Oh no, they'll think they're failures!" And they'll be right.
posted by Twang at 2:39 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If a student turns in an assignment that is 0% correct, then the correct grade is 0. Why should such students be graded on different standards than other students?

This would be correct if the objective of teaching was to produce grades.
posted by patrick54 at 3:06 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


This would be correct if the objective of teaching was to produce grades.

But not *only if* the objective of teaching were to produce grades. Grades are not teaching. Grades are a party of *assessment.*

The difference between necessary and sufficient conditions is crucial here.

The teaching is the teaching and the grading is the grading. The teaching is the interesting, multifaceted part where sometimes you have to try to convince the students to work harder and so forth. The grading comes after that. Then, if the students have, say, refused to learn...well, they've made their bed. Students A, B, and C have done their work, and gotten their grades, which are indicators of how good their work was. Student D doesn't get to be coddled and given a non-zero because....because...because...he's a precious little flower--more precious than the other students. Why should he get a grade of n+20 for a getting n% correct, when other students do not get such consideration. That's not fair unless you're going to coddle everyone equally. And down that path lies madness and other types of disaster.

The material must be manageable/reasonable. After that, students get what they get. Grades are a representation of how much was learned. They are not a tool to be used to make students feel warm and fuzzy about their failures. If that were permissible, then it would also be permissible to use grades to slap down arrogant students. Tempting as that is, it, also, is wrong.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:02 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I taught highschool in Canada for a while after I got certified, waaaayyy back in the day, before I decided it just wasn't for me, so I have some small experience, but none current. I have done a lot of teaching since, in various places around the world in the decades since, especially here in Korea, but I haven't actually had to do any formal evaluation in many years, since I was teaching for a couple of years at a university. For the last decade or so, I've only been teaching adults, in a corporate environment, and these days I don't really do much teaching per se at all -- it's more workshop facilitation and stuff like that.

I say all that to be clear that I'm not really inside the educational system, either in Canada or here in Korea, and despite working in the broader educational field, don't have to deal with these kinds of issues directly.

But one thing that does strike me, reading this thread, is that primary and secondary education here in Korea -- late elementary school through the end of high school -- is a horrifying nightmare for kids. Suicides, all the way down to middle-school level, are worryingly common. Competition is red in tooth and claw. Your average high school student who wants to enter (or whose parents want him or her to enter) one of the Top 5 universities here (which is all anyone wants, because that's where you meet the right people to succeed in life), spends literally 18 hours a day studying, preparing for the University Entrance Exam which will define the rest of their lives, right down to giving them a narrow range of majors that they will be allowed to choose upon entry to university. It is a brutal system that ignores teaching creative thinking in favour of rote memorization, and it robs Korean children of their childhood, and success is, in a continuous tradition that goes right back to 1200 years ago and the advent of the Chinese civil service exams, almost entirely test-based.

But that is the reason that Korean students who manage to get a chance to study overseas do so well. They have it hammered into them at a young age that literally life-threatening levels of effort will let them succeed, and even if they only carry over some small percentage of that over to their studies in America or Canada or whatever, they excel by the relatively lax requirements there. Kids do learn -- the ones who make it do, at least -- that the only real key to success of a certain kind (the only kind that society values here) is only achievable by hard work, hard work in order not to Learn for Learning's Sake, but hard work in order to succeed at tests that open doors to the chambers where they'll meet and form relationships with the right sort of people (some very smart people, but mostly the children of the rich, famous and powerful, who will go on to also be rich, famous and powerful), but much is lost in the process.

The great irony is that these kids are then held up -- including explicity by Barack Obama recently -- as examples to emulate. Certainly their level of diligence is admirable, from a certain perspective, and their scholastic success (in terms of their ability to memorize and recall and jump through testing hoops) is impressive. But the price is prety damned high, and if I were to have kids (which, at this stage, is unlikely) I would not want them to have to go through the system here.

I don't know if it's possible to have it both ways. It's the kind of problem that makes me glad that I decided not to keep teaching high school after my brief stint 20 years ago, because I suspect I would have spent the intervening decades getting angrier and more frustrated, rather than being able to just teach, which I have always loved to do.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:22 PM on June 3, 2012


Stavros, Japan is much the same. I suspect that part of the issue is that Asian schools aim to teach what to think, while European (and thus American) schools generally aim to teach how to think. Here in Japan, things like research papers and learning to cite quotes and even just anything creative at all (even in, say, science labs) are simply not done. Given the oft-heard hullabaloo in the US about how high Asian kids' test scores always are, I was shocked and amused when a science teacher in Japan lamented to me that he always envied the American school system, because in Japan kids are never taught how to think or work for themselves, only how to score well on tests.

Naturally, I'm working in one of the prefectures that consistently scores in the top three on national standardized tests. If it's any consolation to the Americans here, the academic goal here for teachers in middle school is "two hours of homework each night, plus the grade number you're in," so first-years are expected to have three hours of homework nightly and third-years are expected to have five hours' worth. This is after nearly all of the students go home after 6:00 p.m. because sports clubs are all but mandatory (even if those actually have been demonstrated to have a beneficial effect on kids, when tons of homework doesn't). Granted, sports clubs are basically the only time the kids get to enjoy being with their friends in a non-class context outside of weekends and holidays, and it's something they all generally look forward to, especially if they're friends with kids in different classes, since they stay in a single classroom all day with the same classmates…

It's complicated.

All this seems to add up to the impression that a lot of people who spend a lot of time in Japan get, that the Japanese are just fundamentally afraid of free, unstructured time, because they've never had to learn how to deal with it (either productively or not). As a result, you get people spending lots of overtime at work just because they don't have any hobbies, and tightly scheduled package tours are very popular indeed. A lot of it is kind of sad in ways!
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:20 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fists o'Fury: Then, if the students have, say, refused to learn...well, they've made their bed.

Sigh. Yes. It's just not possible that the students have problems understanding the material, or other things going on in their lives that have kept them from being able to spend the time necessary to think about how to produce the answers you want. It's just a refusal to learn.

By your own petard then, be hoisted. I give you a zero for refusing to learn what Patrick54 was trying to teach you.
posted by nushustu at 10:49 PM on June 3, 2012


(patrick54 and toodleydoodley, I should have said.)
posted by nushustu at 10:50 PM on June 3, 2012


I'm learning a lesson from Eyebrows McGee: this is a topic that riles folks up. Everybody thinks they're right.

But this is actually right:

THERE'S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HIGH SCHOOL AND UNIVERSITY.

Right? Everybody can be right if they'll just delimit the scope of their claims. It's okay to have different standards at different levels of education, and college, especially, should be more demanding. (As, perhaps, should college prep courses in high school.)

When I give Fs, I sometimes do it with a heavy heart, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that a college education is expensive and useless if the students can't do the work: diploma mills don't produce the same sheepskin effect. It seems a bit like malpractice, otherwise: like a doctor refusing to diagnose a serious disease because of the stigma associated with it.

That said, Fists o' Fury should probably admit that there's a difference between different zeros: a zero on a hundred point scale, with 60 as the minimum passing score, is a lot more harmful to a student's overall grade than a zero on a 5 point question on an exam of twenty questions.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:37 AM on June 4, 2012


Sorry, nushustu, that little rhetorical ploy won't do the trick. Nothing you nor toodleydoodley has said supports the case for non-zeroes.

Now, of course, one might reasonably put a floor on grades in various ways. What I do is give students 50% (yes, 50%) for simply writing "I don't know." As Socrates taught us, those who don't know and know that they don't know are better, epistemically speaking, than those who don't know and don't know that they don't know.

A student who gets a zero has to, basically, be incompetent with respect to that bit of the material. Add my policy described above to the mix, and he has to be incompetent *and* either entirely clueless about it or bullshitting.

The fact of the matter is that a very large percentage of students are getting by by bullshitting in many classes. There's a fairly big difference in grades between the sciences and the humanities, and my guess is that it's largely a result of the fact that students know that they can get decent grades by bullshitting in the humanities.

I'll close by just saying that a friend of mine's father once happened across a syllabus to my class and, reading over the policies we're discussing here (dude must have been very bored, come to think of it) said: "If everybody had those policies people might actually learn something in college."

I'm not a hard-ass, and I'm not a mean person. Students largely enjoy my classes, and often comment that they gain a new appreciation for intellectual honesty, and an aversion to bullshit, in them.

Coddle away with unfair policies that favor the bullshitters and uber-slackers over the majority of well-meaning kids if you like. But I'll never do it.

One idea that motivates all this is that we needn't turn kids into Korean-style workaholics in order to help them learn. Common-sense, *fair* grades that are accurate reflections of knowledge, combined with good, fair, important, interesting material and good instruction is good enough. After that, you hit a point of diminishing returns very quickly.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:10 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


What I do is give students 50% (yes, 50%) for simply writing "I don't know."

If I gave exams outside of logic, I'd steal this. (Unless.... do you do this for logic?)
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:22 AM on June 4, 2012


anotherpanacea: "Incidentally, the two curriculum-related things that serve as the greatest troll-bait to the community are a no-zero policy, which brings out people who hate welfare and complain that no-zero policies DIRECTLY create welfare queens,"
Is this just a special case of people's conflicting intuitions about justice, or is it the result of leftover childhood trauma from various mistreatments? Or are those the same thing?


Sorry, every time I tried to get back to this, life intervened.

I think, first, everyone is an expert on K-12 education because everyone went to school. There's also an element of "We had to do X, so even if research now shows that X is ineffective/harmful/whatever, these students should have to do X too!" People actually come and say this frequently. Another one is, "I don't care if X is bad for students, it didn't kill us and it won't kill them!"

Second, a lot of it has to do with the cultural narrative that students today are lazy and coddled and that schools spend all their time on "self esteem."

Third, and this is specific to our district, but I'm sure variations of it play out everywhere: People who come to school board meetings to talk about school policy (who are not teachers) are mostly either a) folks who went to school in the 60s, before significant school integration, before special ed laws (my state just didn't let children who were "abnormal" in any way go to regular schools, as many states did at the time), before strict truancy laws. Children with problems (medical, emotional, educational, or social) just disappeared from the system, and poor children could be very effectively segregated from middle class children through racial segregation. Many of them really dislike interventions that keep children with problems in the classroom, and many of them really don't understand how the school population is different than in their day. Or b) middle-class parents of current students, who mostly grew up in suburban schools in the 80s, who have deliberately chosen to move into an urban district, but who experienced, again, a very different student population. They're also sometimes not aware of the sorts of problems some students can face, and the lack of parental resources poor students have available. They care a lot about urban schools -- they chose to enroll their children in them -- but they don't have day-to-day experience in our most difficult schools.

A lot of people rightly see that we have a LOT of behavioral problems in the classroom that disrupt and take away from the ability of well-behaved students to learn, and a lot of them see "no-zero" as another way to privilege disengaged, misbehaving students over engaged students trying to learn. People who start to learn about the complexities of the issues involving students with behavioral problems and the justifications for no-zero policies usually at least say, "Okay, I see the argument" even if they don't agree. But there's a significant population of people for whom, well, basically they don't like poor people, and anything that helps poor children is preparing them to loaf on welfare and demand handouts from society while doing nothing to help or support themselves. Any kind of support in school is just the first step in a long road of sponging off the American taxpayer. (We actually had someone come to a meeting and start telling us all about the apparently terrible things about prisons that are kind of similar to schools, and we're all kind of nodding along, waiting for the "schools should not be prisons" denouement, and instead he goes, "And all of these things about prisons are great, and SCHOOLS NEED TO ADOPT THESE MEASURES." WHUT. He went on for like four minutes about how we really need to treat children like criminals because if we don't treat them like criminals when they're seven, they won't grow up to be productive members of society.)

There's also always a lot to do with notions of fairness and competition -- "I did well (or my child is doing well) under X system, and therefore I am invested in it and do not want it to change." We changed the valedictorian selection criteria a couple years ago (because ours was crazy outdated and you could basically be valedictorian without taking any science classes and students would refuse to take APs because they negatively effected valedictorian standing) and OH THE DRAMA. When people understand the system and how to work within it, they don't want that system to change.

I'm sure there are many more factors -- I'm no expert and we haven't spent a ton of time on this topic yet -- but those are the things that have jumped out at me. We're also discussing -- I forget what they're called, but giving K-2 students report cards that say "making excellent progress" or "making satisfactory progress" or "struggling" or whatever the categories are, and some people are SUPER ANGRY that five-year-olds won't get Fs now, when "progress reports" for the youngest students, rather than grades on report cards, seem intuitively obvious to me as far more helpful at that age.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:17 AM on June 4, 2012


*negatively AFFECTED, oh my GOD.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:19 AM on June 4, 2012


This is a totally BS controversy. It attracts attention because it's so easy to project your pet issue (whatever it may be) onto it.

(Since I'm here anyways I might as well give my projection: this is just another of the many insoluble problems that rise from the structure of our education system. Any real solution requires total reform. Too bad we're all distracted and exhausted by trivialities like this "issue".)
posted by cdward at 10:48 AM on June 4, 2012


The nice thing about total reform is being able to ignore the pesky details.

Still, I worry that we make greater gains from tinkering melioristically than from revolutionizing and paradigm shifting willy-nilly.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:42 PM on June 4, 2012


the sooner they lose that "independent spirit" the better off everyone's probably going to be

YIKEZ, and here I thought the entire point of getting an education was to develop and fost independent spirits.

Silly me with wanting to teach the kids how to think for themselves.
posted by Meat Puppet at 5:54 PM on June 4, 2012


*foster
posted by Meat Puppet at 5:54 PM on June 4, 2012


Children with problems (medical, emotional, educational, or social) just disappeared from the system, and poor children could be very effectively segregated from middle class children through racial segregation. Many of them really dislike interventions that keep children with problems in the classroom, and many of them really don't understand how the school population is different than in their day.

I think many people understand how the school population is different (ie students with major problems allowed to remain in the classroom), but they have valid reasons for disliking those interventions - namely, that they hurt their children. I think it's a little much to expect people to voluntarily want their child to be worse off so that other children might possibly be better.

A lot of people rightly see that we have a LOT of behavioral problems in the classroom that disrupt and take away from the ability of well-behaved students to learn, and a lot of them see "no-zero" as another way to privilege disengaged, misbehaving students over engaged students trying to learn. People who start to learn about the complexities of the issues involving students with behavioral problems and the justifications for no-zero policies usually at least say, "Okay, I see the argument" even if they don't agree. But there's a significant population of people for whom, well, basically they don't like poor people, and anything that helps poor children is preparing them to loaf on welfare and demand handouts from society while doing nothing to help or support themselves.

I don't think this is fair, Eyebrows McGee. I think this isn't a situation where there are two groups, "people who understand the argument" and "people who hate poor people."

I completely, one hundred percent do not understand the integration of all ability-children into the same classes. When I was a kid, children were segregated by ability, and it meant that the same teacher could effectively teach a larger group. I one hundred percent do not understand the rationale in any way for stopping this, for putting children who need special education in the same class as gifted children. I one hundred percent do not understand why children with severe behavioral issues are allowed to remain in the classroom with other children - particularly, with my child. I am frustrated when there is one child in a classroom who is harassing other children, but they aren't able to be removed from that classroom, because they have identified behavioral problems.

This has nothing to do with hating poor children. I just genuinely don't understand the rationale. I can't even see it. People tell me that it's better for everyone because this way, people get used to people being different, and I look at them like aliens are talking. I literally cannot see to their view, but it has nothing to do with hatred - or poverty, for that matter.
posted by corb at 7:12 PM on June 4, 2012


corb: "I think many people understand how the school population is different "

You'd be shocked; I'd say most people I talk to have absolutely no idea.

"I don't think this is fair, Eyebrows McGee. I think this isn't a situation where there are two groups, "people who understand the argument" and "people who hate poor people." "

First, this is in my (very, very long) discussion of the small subset of "people who come to school board meetings and publicly rant about this, which is what anotherpanacea asked me about, public discussions of no-zero grading policies that bring out the crazy.

Second, it sounds like you DO understand the argument, and you completely disagree with it.

Third, I was talking about no-zero policies, which aren't particularly related to "mainstreaming." I'm not totally clear on why you're arguing about mainstreaming when the discussion is no-zero policy, but that kind of issue-conflation does happen a lot. I would also say that our system does a lot of "segregation" by ability and behavior and other criteria, as we're a fairly large system that has many special programs, so that's not necessarily the issue, even when other people perceive it as the issue. Misbehaving students, which include your child, and everyone's child, and some children more often than others, are different from "students with severe behavioral issues." "Children with problems" who are no longer removed from the classroom includes kids with dyslexia who break a pencil when they get frustrated with an assignment, or the class clown who doesn't complete assignments because his parents are mid-divorce. "Students with severe behavioral issues," certainly if they have IEPs for behavioral issues, are enrolled in our programs for students with behavioral issues, some of which may be in a separate classroom within a particular school (especially at the elementary level), but many of which are hosted at a special campus. (Subpoint: segregation by ability does not generally allow for larger class sizes. Excellent gifted education, for example, requires a fairly small class size.)

Fourth, there are definitely plenty of crazy people who come out specifically to tell us how much poor people suck. If you have never been to local governmental meetings, you are missing out on some seriously high-quality crazy. And there's a subset of people who are just waaaaaaay out there, who come to EVERY meeting because they have nothing else to do, and speak EVERY week on whatever their pet complaint is. And they get on the news a lot because they tend to yell. It can dominate the debate about an issue, to the point that it pushes out any reasonable discussion.

It's a little frustrating to be talking about an issue where so many people read into their own complaints, to try to answer in a measured and clear fashion, and to be so misread and have you read so many of your own complaints into it. Every child stumbles in school sometimes, and every child has patches of misbehavior -- if only because adolescence is universal.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:54 PM on June 4, 2012


I'm not totally clear on why you're arguing about mainstreaming when the discussion is no-zero policy, but that kind of issue-conflation does happen a lot.

You seemed to bring it up in your complaint about people who attended school board meetings, particularly with your references to special education children who initially had different schools but now do not. My apologies if I misread your intent.

"Students with severe behavioral issues," certainly if they have IEPs for behavioral issues, are enrolled in our programs for students with behavioral issues, some of which may be in a separate classroom within a particular school (especially at the elementary level), but many of which are hosted at a special campus.

Your locale appears to do this differently than mine does. Mine, so long as an IEP is in place, allows them to integrate into the classrooms, they just add a paraprofessional. There are no segregated classrooms or special campuses in my school district. So you have children who are, say, engaging in severely inappropriate behavior (I mean far different than just children misbehaving or the class clown not turning in assignments) still staying with the class. Or children who have severe learning disabilities in the same class as other children, which winds up taking up a lot of teacher time.

How this relates to non-zero policy is that all of these special interventions that are being mentioned are a great idea, but most schools do not have the resources to implement it. As others have mentioned above, this requires these teachers to engage in a lot of extra work and makes the "ten percent" problem (ten percent of your people take up ninety percent of your time) even worse.

It also plays in in that a lot of people (I of course think rightly, but your mileage may vary) think that schools have gotten markedly less competitive over the decades, and that this is actively harmful for their children. This plays in with regard to the "inclusiveness" of mainstreaming, and this also plays in with the "inclusiveness" of no-zero policies, because no-zero policies also aid with social promotion fairly extensively.
posted by corb at 8:40 PM on June 4, 2012


"It also plays in in that a lot of people (I of course think rightly, but your mileage may vary) think that schools have gotten markedly less competitive over the decades, and that this is actively harmful for their children."

Not sure whether you mean students competing within schools or schools being "competitive" in the world (probably the former?), but I think either way there's a bifurcation in American schools -- the best schools are extraordinary; many of the rest have suffered under lower and lower funding and become less competitive worldwide. Similarly, students at great schools can be SO competitive with one another that I knew an adolescent psychiatrist whose practice consisted entirely of suicidal honors students from 6th through 12th grades, and reducing competition and grade anxiety in that setting is probably very good for children. In other schools, reduced visibility of academics and competition for honors like Dean's List reduces peer group pressure to succeed academically. (And maybe that academically-oriented peer group can be created in other ways that are better, but maybe not.)

Someone upthread commented about it being different at different levels, and I think that's how I mostly feel about it right now: in K-8 schools I think a no-zero policy can be very appropriate (implemented correctly and with the necessary support), but it makes me sort-of uncomfortable in a high school setting. Some of it's the different maturity levels of the students, and that as students get older, grading shifts from being more about monitoring student progress to help focus learning and remediation, to being more about providing clear and fairly uniform assessments that can be used by a wider community in assessing work readiness, college readiness, etc. I don't know. I'm still thinking about it.

"Your locale appears to do this differently than mine does. Mine, so long as an IEP is in place, allows them to integrate into the classrooms, they just add a paraprofessional. "

Yeah, I did a quick count, we have 30 school campuses, and 4 of them are special programs on separate campuses for students with various types of disabilities or behavioral issues. And then we have a teacher in the locked psychiatric ward at the local hospital; and we have a unit for students who are "profoundly retarded" attached to a regular school so they can join the students for some programming but be separated for academics; and a deaf classroom; and I think five or six autism classrooms; and so on. But still class sizes are too big and behavior problems too widespread and it'd be better if we could do even more. It'd be best if we had a better social safety net generally, but I guess that's not what I'm supposed to be worrying about.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:07 PM on June 4, 2012


nixerman: "So then why do teachers assign so much homework?"

Like I said, assessment measures are generally pushed top-down. Individual teachers don't generally have much control over how many assignments they must give. There's a minimum number expected.

And when you don't follow policy, you end up getting canned and ultimately your fate is the subject of a lively debate on MeFi.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:01 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


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