Fixing American Education

Blue Crab

benthivore
14,801
2,169
Outer Banks
We've had several threads along this line, generally resulting in disagreement about almost everything except ethnicity discrepancies in readiness to learn new material. I'm posting this note from a college professor but the method here really offers actual promise being applied all the way thru K-12.

My 10 years in large inner city classrooms in grades 5-12, most subjects, and a couple more in "gifted and talented" middle school programs in the burbs has shaped my comments on this board for years. I've opined about major change possibilities and the obstacles thereto and have concluded that anything short of me becoming SecEd, which is unlikely, just won't get it done. This could be a hellava start, however, and works within the system we have rather than the one we want.

"I no longer grade my students’ work – and I wish I had stopped sooner    Grading

 ... I stopped putting grades on written work for three related reasons – all of which other professors have also cited as concerns.

First, I wanted my students to focus on the feedback I provided on their writing. I had a sense, since backed up by research, that when I put a grade on a piece of writing, students focused solely on that. Removing the grade forced students to pay attention to my comments.

Second, I was concerned with equity. For almost 10 years I have been studying inclusive pedagogy, which focuses on ensuring that all students have the resources they need to learn. My studies confirmed my sense that sometimes what I was really grading was a student’s background. Students with educational privilege came into my classroom already prepared to write A or B papers, while others often had not had the instruction that would enable them to do so. The 14 weeks they spent in my class could not make up for the years of educational privilege their peers had enjoyed..."

 

mikewof

mikewof
43,756
958
My 10 years in large inner city classrooms in grades 5-12, most subjects, and a couple more in "gifted and talented" middle school programs in the burbs has shaped my comments on this board for years. I've opined about major change possibilities and the obstacles thereto and have concluded that anything short of me becoming SecEd, which is unlikely, just won't get it done. This could be a hellava start, however, and works within the system we have rather than the one we want.

"I no longer grade my students’ work – and I wish I had stopped sooner    Grading
I think it's a good approach, especially for cultural education like writing. language and literature. I can see the value of the grading system, it helps those who are good at something move forward into that area, but as Elisabeth Gruner notes, equity is important, and the grades can come later. I used to joke about the luxury of falling out of a wealthy vagina, as many of us here in a computer forum about owning luxury sailboats tend to enjoy. Educationally, roughly the same thing. But tell the person who had the good fortune of falling out of a middle class vagina that their good fortune is largely due to the owner of the vagina, and not their "hard work and stick-to-it-nature" and they often get a bit defensive.

 

Marty Gingras

Mid-range Anarchist
Feedback ('You did this and that.  The result was thus and such.') is crazy important.  If eliminating grades facilitates use of feedback that'd be good to know and consider.  I was a student at UCSC when they began offering grades, which was a good thing because most of the professors gave little helpful feedback in the required 'narrative evaluations' and often delegated it to graduate assistants who often were even worse.  

 

Steam Flyer

Super Anarchist
40,094
7,615
Eastern NC
Sorry, I'm old fashioned as shit about things like this.

Students that study hard, master the material, learn to solve all the problems, deserve to have their work recognized. Students that coast thru with the minimum, deserve to have THAT recognized. Students that are confused about what they need to do to improve, deserve to get that feedback.

And students who fail, should get an F

- DSK

 

mikewof

mikewof
43,756
958
Sorry, I'm old fashioned as shit about things like this.

Students that study hard, master the material, learn to solve all the problems, deserve to have their work recognized. Students that coast thru with the minimum, deserve to have THAT recognized. Students that are confused about what they need to do to improve, deserve to get that feedback.

And students who fail, should get an F

- DSK
For the students who do well, why do they "deserve" the external recognition of a grade? What about the feeling of a job well done, like chopping a cord or two of firewood to keep yourself warm through the winter, and not expecting to get laid or the task?

Isn't the knowledge gained, the true reward? As for things like medical schools, and trade schools, they have entrance exams. Should they use grades as an arbiter of knowledge?

 

Blue Crab

benthivore
14,801
2,169
Outer Banks
Sorry, I'm old fashioned as shit about things like this.

Students that study hard, master the material, learn to solve all the problems, deserve to have their work recognized. Students that coast thru with the minimum, deserve to have THAT recognized. Students that are confused about what they need to do to improve, deserve to get that feedback.

And students who fail, should get an F

- DSK
I respectfully request you read that article.

All the kids know who's what. They don't need to be labeled anymore. This is a paradigm level change. They grade themselves but read the fine print. Can't guess the calculus of increased self-esteem but we  all know how key it is. One day the idea bulb over my head did its thing and I stopped using red ink to comment on student work. At least it made me feel better.

 

SloopJonB

Super Anarchist
65,127
10,613
Great Wet North
Sorry, I'm old fashioned as shit about things like this.

Students that study hard, master the material, learn to solve all the problems, deserve to have their work recognized. Students that coast thru with the minimum, deserve to have THAT recognized. Students that are confused about what they need to do to improve, deserve to get that feedback.

And students who fail, should get an F

- DSK
Teachers have been slowly and steadily removing all rigor from their profession for as long as I've been alive.

Diplomas and degrees have been dumbed down to little more than participation awards.

 

Bristol-Cruiser

Super Anarchist
4,478
1,136
Great Lakes
We've had several threads along this line, generally resulting in disagreement about almost everything except ethnicity discrepancies in readiness to learn new material. I'm posting this note from a college professor but the method here really offers actual promise being applied all the way thru K-12.

My 10 years in large inner city classrooms in grades 5-12, most subjects, and a couple more in "gifted and talented" middle school programs in the burbs has shaped my comments on this board for years. I've opined about major change possibilities and the obstacles thereto and have concluded that anything short of me becoming SecEd, which is unlikely, just won't get it done. This could be a hellava start, however, and works within the system we have rather than the one we want.

"I no longer grade my students’ work – and I wish I had stopped sooner    Grading

 ... I stopped putting grades on written work for three related reasons – all of which other professors have also cited as concerns.

First, I wanted my students to focus on the feedback I provided on their writing. I had a sense, since backed up by research, that when I put a grade on a piece of writing, students focused solely on that. Removing the grade forced students to pay attention to my comments.

Second, I was concerned with equity. For almost 10 years I have been studying inclusive pedagogy, which focuses on ensuring that all students have the resources they need to learn. My studies confirmed my sense that sometimes what I was really grading was a student’s background. Students with educational privilege came into my classroom already prepared to write A or B papers, while others often had not had the instruction that would enable them to do so. The 14 weeks they spent in my class could not make up for the years of educational privilege their peers had enjoyed..."
What is the third reason?

 

Not My Real Name

Not Actually Me
42,830
2,705
We've had several threads along this line, generally resulting in disagreement about almost everything except ethnicity discrepancies in readiness to learn new material. I'm posting this note from a college professor but the method here really offers actual promise being applied all the way thru K-12.

My 10 years in large inner city classrooms in grades 5-12, most subjects, and a couple more in "gifted and talented" middle school programs in the burbs has shaped my comments on this board for years. I've opined about major change possibilities and the obstacles thereto and have concluded that anything short of me becoming SecEd, which is unlikely, just won't get it done. This could be a hellava start, however, and works within the system we have rather than the one we want.

"I no longer grade my students’ work – and I wish I had stopped sooner    Grading

 ... I stopped putting grades on written work for three related reasons – all of which other professors have also cited as concerns.

First, I wanted my students to focus on the feedback I provided on their writing. I had a sense, since backed up by research, that when I put a grade on a piece of writing, students focused solely on that. Removing the grade forced students to pay attention to my comments.

Second, I was concerned with equity. For almost 10 years I have been studying inclusive pedagogy, which focuses on ensuring that all students have the resources they need to learn. My studies confirmed my sense that sometimes what I was really grading was a student’s background. Students with educational privilege came into my classroom already prepared to write A or B papers, while others often had not had the instruction that would enable them to do so. The 14 weeks they spent in my class could not make up for the years of educational privilege their peers had enjoyed..."
Weird that we agree on something...

The primary reason that I chose the college I did was they restructured the curriculum to encourage learning over grade hounding. They set it up to encourage students to step outside their majors requirements and comfort zones and take new things.

The basic tenets:

  • No "Core Curriculum". You could take what you needed for your major, and the rest of the credits were yours. The only exception was one English course that was rumored to be for those who were not writing well. I didn't need it so can not confirm.
  • Grading on ANY course could optionally be ABC/No Credit or Satisfactory/NC (or as we called it, "No Cookies") No +/- to the grades, whole letters only.
  • Any course you dropped or failed disappeared from your transcript like it never existed.
  • With good academic status you could drop anything right up to the final.
  • All courses are 1 credit, it didn't matter if was a humanities course or Organic Chemistry with a five hour lab every week.
  • With a typical load of 4 courses x 8 required semesters, you get 32 credits. But only 28 credits was required to graduate (though you had to pay for and attend 8 semesters). This was raised to 30 after my graduation.
  • You could create a custom "Concentration" (the word "major" was eliminated) working with an advisor if you didn't find a program that suited. I knew a woman who created her own concentration in Storytelling and Folklore; she's renowned at least regionally for her work.

The results were interesting. 90% of the students voluntarily took courses in a broad spectrum outside their majors. I got a B.S. in bio, but I took English, American Civilization, Philosophy, and even Religious Studies (I shit you not...it's one reason I can argue the Bible well) simply because it interested me.

My wife was the model - she took five classes every semester, with the 5th being something she was interested in, and usually took it S/NC so she didn't stress about it. I was perhaps...less model...sliding across the finish with 28 credits while passing five S/NC courses my last semester...

The idea was to get kids to expand their horizons and take risks.

I think traditional grading hurts. My father wrote his master's thesis on the topic, removing traditional grading.

 
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mikewof

mikewof
43,756
958
Teachers have been slowly and steadily removing all rigor from their profession for as long as I've been alive.

Diplomas and degrees have been dumbed down to little more than participation awards.
The general expertise of students in science, math and culture continues to increase. The problem isn't that the fields have gotten dumber, but that too many students either don't want to devote themselves to the difficulty of study, or can't afford to do so.

That you think the rigor is gone, suggests that your own education might in fact be one of those "participation awards."

 

Steam Flyer

Super Anarchist
40,094
7,615
Eastern NC
I respectfully request you read that article.

All the kids know who's what. They don't need to be labeled anymore. This is a paradigm level change. They grade themselves but read the fine print. Can't guess the calculus of increased self-esteem but we  all know how key it is. One day the idea bulb over my head did its thing and I stopped using red ink to comment on student work. At least it made me feel better.
I did read it.

The issues mentioned are not particularly persuasive, at least not on science and math subjects. There is in fact a quantifiable standard of performance. Students can either be graded on their progress, or against a given standard; I don't have a problem with that. Having nobody but the student know what their grade is, I don't have a problem with that. Having students drop any time right up to the final, I don't have a problem with that.

The purpose of education is to educate. With many many topics, the student can get meaningful feedback without a grade, without being told they're WRONG when they don't give the answer the teacher expects. However you can't have engineers building shit on the basis of 2+2=cheese.

A lot of it is the interaction of the student and the teacher. Grading puts stress on the teacher as well. Teachers are human beings with social needs. A lot of students are hard to reach, difficult/impossible to engage. A lot of "schoolwork" is busy-work. I remember being in a theater seating about 1200 with a professor at the front walking back & forth talking very fast in a squeaky voice, and thinking "fuck this."

- DSK

 

Rain Man

Super Anarchist
6,926
1,884
Wet coast.
Less nonproductive work, more time to prep 
Removing traditional grading and replacing it with good feedback is a good idea IMHO.  The crunch comes when you get to post-secondary admission.   There has to be an evidence-gathering process of some kind to provide post-secondary with data.  I think "grading" should be replaced by "what this person can and can not do" with evidence to back it up.

I like this trend because I believe it will inevitably lead to smaller classes, better education, and fewer square peg kids stuffed into round hole education.

 
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phillysailor

Super Anarchist
7,845
2,702
My college education was exceptional. We were required to take a broad number of intro courses, and for the first 3-4 semesters the courses taught specifically how to WRITE in that discipline.

If it was History, we’d read historical documents, historical manuscripts and texts. We’d dissect a graduate thesis, a few journal articles, then essentially write a persuasive letter (source material), a few journal articles, collaborate on a chapter, and finally write a thesis (lite).

And then do that in math, then engineering, or economics, physics. We learned to speak with the voice, language and format that we’d studied. 

By overtly studying and attempting to replicate the writing style and product of those we studied we learned a great deal, through the comments of our profs, about the mindset of the movers and shakers of the various fields.

Later, courses became seminars, and we prepared and defended 6-10 page papers every few weeks, becoming the “expert for a day” on a variety of subjects. Papers were available days before seminars, and preparation by all students led to interesting debates and challenging scenarios.

By the time we sat for orals with outside examiners, some of whom wrote the texts we used, we were well used to the task. We received our participation awards/diplomas and went off into the world, well prepared for careers, presentations and oral boards.

$ and time well spent. For those doing only seminars, there were no grades, just academic awards. We all knew by then who was brilliant.

 
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Blue Crab

benthivore
14,801
2,169
Outer Banks
Good read. My point really was aimed at 5-12. Everyone is doing their best to outgrow childhood. Self-esteem across the skin tones is hyper-sensitive. Grades need not be a part of that. Don't get me started on anti-babysitting.  OK, just one: We could do the actual school work in half the time. Kids should play in their own neighborhood after lunch. And the long summer break hurts the underprepared.

 
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