Thursday, December 4, 2008

What The H?

And I thought I was all bent out of shape about parents not wanting toy makers to run TV ads that market their products to children (because we're in a recession, don't you know, and the parents can't afford to buy the children everything they want). And I might have been. Bent, that is. But now I'm definitely bent. Pretzel-ized, if you will. And here's why: See, the Grand Rapids Public Schools have implemented a new system that does not call for giving a student an "F" if they fail the class. Instead, the student will receive an "H" and have a gazillion opportunities to change that grade to that of a passing one. The rationale for this, in part and according to Superintendent Bernard Taylor "Our children are our precious gifts and, if sometimes they need a little longer for their light to shine, let's let them do it." Wait. WTF? WTH?

Correct. Students will not receive an "F" if they fail a class. Why not? Well, if you ask that Taylor guy, he's likely to tell you the same thing that (It's Everything Michigan!) reported he said, which was that "....the move is part of the district's evolving "Success Only" option that calls for offering students multiple opportunities and methods to demonstrate they know class material." Um, if you know class material, why would you need "multiple opportunities" to show that? I suppose I'm OK with "multiple methods". You want to have a quiz given to you orally instead of taking the written one (and it's the exact same quiz)? I'm good with that. You want to do your term papers orally as well? I'm not OK with that. There are limits to the flexibility of any system. But I digress.

The dealio is that the "H" stands for "Held". (As in "We HELD his hand all the way through high school to the point that he became completely incapable of doing anything for himself.") Now, if you fail a class, you won't get an "F", you'll get that "H" (Again, for "held") and you'll also get "an opportunity to make up the work and earn a passing grade by the end of the next trimester." Huh. And they can do that how?

Why, they can do that by having "...the option of repeating the course, taking it online on Saturdays or evenings and working with tutors" of course! But none of those things are a requirement after receiving your hard earned "H". You can opt to take the failing grade if none of those options are exciting enough for you (and regardless as to whether or not they're calling it an "F" or an "H" or a freaking "Q").

Now, this sounded so incredibly stupid to me that I figured I was missing something. But as it turns out, I'm not the one missing something. Those who implemented this new policy? They're definitely missing a few things. Common sense would be at the top of the list of "Missing Attributes", as evidenced by other changes that have been made in the district. Changes like "offering students a chance to improve scores by handing in missing work" and "prohibiting teachers from docking points for excessive absences or poor behavior." Are you effing kidding me? I mean, are you H-ing kidding me?

Oh, but the superintendent insists that "We are not watering down standards or lowering standards. We're giving people the opportunity to meet standards when they go astray." Now, never mind that you had the opportunity to meet standards before you chose to "go astray". So there's a standard, but the standard has no standards? That's what I got out of that. What am I not getting? Well, Taylor explained that ...people have three chances to get their driver's license, and lawyers in some states can keep taking the bar exam until they pass. The only time we insist on failure if you don't get it the first time is with children in high school. Our children are our precious gifts and, if sometimes they need a little longer for their light to shine, let's let them do it." Dude, if you're comparing passing one trimester of Algebra at a public high school to passing the BAR EXAM after you've completed LAW SCHOOL, then there is a problem (especially with your perception of what goes on in Algebra class, for starters. I've been to Algebra class and it is rarely like law school.).

In more words of wisdom from the superintendent, he says that "...the district didn't want to give students a 'life failure," because of a failed class at age 14, 15 or 16 -- an age at which he says most people don't have their lives together. " Having your "life together" and failing US Government are not synonymous with one another, sir. Of course 14, 15, and 16-year olds aren't completely together! But you make it sound like they're completely fallen apart, which is not the case the majority of the time. The majority of the time you can chalk stuff up to them being 14, 15 or 16. But for some reason, you're suggesting that giving them a gazillion chances to achieve the accepted norm is going to help them to "get themselves together." Not having any consequences for negative actions rarely accomplishes that.

A one Amy McGlynn, who is the chair of the board's Education Committee says, "Too many kids see an F as the end, and we're looking for ways for them to look beyond failure and get back on track." And that's a fine goal to have, but the problem is that you're not doing that! You're not encouraging them to "look beyond failure". You're enabling them to not experience failure at all! It's one thing to fail and to know you've failed and then to figure out where to go from there. It is a completely different thing to fail, but not have anyone call it "failing" and instead just let you scurry around and see if you can fix it. Sure, because that's how it will be for these kids in college and when they get a job, correct? NO! Not so much!

The district fails to see the most obvious solution to this non-issue. If they are so intent on giving the kids who failed more chances to improve their grade, OK then. (I won't get into specifics on how that would go in my world, but it wouldn't be as "whenever" as the Grand Rapids School District seems to do things.) But give the kid the effing "F"! If you're going to change it after they've done whatever they need to do in order to pass the class, then why not give them the "F" in the first place? There certainly wasn't any harm to begin with, so I highly doubt that there would be any by doing it this way! GIVE THEM THE "F"! You need to know when you've screwed up and I don't know that you're going to fully comprehend the seriousness of your "H" at the end of your trimester.

I'm a firm believer in the Duck Theory. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck. (Well, ducks don't talk, they quack. But that's how the theory goes and since I'm not the Grand Rapids School District, I'm not changing it.) Now, it can walk like a duck and talk like a duck, and you can call it a water buffalo, that doesn't change the fact that it's still a duck. However, if you get so used to calling a duck a water buffalo, you might just end up treating the duck as if it actually is a water buffalo (much to the dismay of the duck). And the chances are going to increase that you're not going to recognize when a different duck is also a duck and not a water buffalo. Failing a class is failing a class whether you get an "F" or an "H" or an effing "Q". But you're going to have a difficult time recognizing failure in the future because you've become so accustomed to calling it something different and treating it like it's something different. Because in the end, it is what it is no matter what you call it. The only difference will be that (with the "H" way) when you fail at something in the future, you'll be confused.

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