10 August 2012

Short Thoughts for the New Year: Zero Tolerance for Zero

If we must have grades - and I would argue that grades, letters or numbers suggesting some percentage of accomplishment, range in actual value to the student from meaningless to worthless - then, at least we ought to have fair grades.

So here's a school year start plan for administrators. Let's have zero tolerance for any teacher ever giving any student a "zero" on a "one hundred point scale." In fact, if you use digital gradebooks, and in the US and Canada you probably do, go in right now and change the parameters to make this impossible.

The reason we cannot tolerate zeros? It is completely absurd to give any student a grade below zero on any assignment, test, or task just so the teacher can f--- up the student's semester and year. And zero is always far below "zero."

In traditional grading there is a 36 point scale, with "64" equalling "failed to meet a minimum" and "100" equalling "did I everything I told you to do." This equates to the classic US university "Four Point Scale" in which 0.0 is "failed" and 4.0 is "totally compliant." And no one at a university ever gets a grade of -6.4, because, well, that's ridiculous, as is any teacher giving any student a -64%.

A scale is a scale, and failure is failure, if you believe in quantifying failure rather than teaching with it. There is nothing - in any rational grading system - below failure.

Zeros are one of those brutal coercion tools some teachers use, and brutality has no place in our schools.

Hypocrisy Alert:

"Five Kent County high schools are requiring students who park on campus to be signed up for a sheriff's department program that notifies parents when teens are pulled over.

"The STOPPED program -- Sheriffs Telling Our Parents and Promoting Educated Drivers -- provides signed-up families with a stop sign sticker with a unique ID number. That sticker is placed on the windshield in the upper corner of the passenger's side.

"When a vehicle with a STOPPED sticker is pulled over, deputies report the reason for the stop to the Michigan Sheriffs' Association using the ID number, which then sends an email to parents regardless of whether or not the teen is ticketed."

or, as we might say, "OMG!"

Now, Kent County, Michigan has its problems with law and respect. After getting blasted by the state and the federal government for violating both minority group and disability rights in school suspensions, the Grand Rapids Public Schools (the county's largest school district), promoted the chief "suspender" to superintendent and vowed to continue to lead the state in kicking out the few students who haven't yet fled under Michigan's Schools of Choice law. (not a problem limited to one district in the county)

Voters in the Republican Primary just nominated a candidate accused of election fraud, and, of course, one school district there is famous for hounding a fabulous teacher to death because he got married. So little surprises me, but...

Whenever I see schools leaping onto the massive hypocrisy bandwagon, the "let's distrust all students" bandwagon, and even the, "let's usurp parental rights" bandwagon, I know the moral compass is way off.

For schools with no alternative parking options (which includes some of these), the right to, say, work after school is no dependent on a student giving away constitutional rights - that presumption of innocence. It is also dependent on giving away any right to privacy. If I attended one of these high schools, this rule would push me right out the door, permanently - and honestly, I think I'm a pretty damned good driver.

Why not just implant a GPS device under the kids' skin? Well, they'd probably like to do that. Most of these communities are incredibly unsure of their abilities as parents - so unsure of themselves and their morality that they automatically assume any child out of their sight will be doing "the wrong thing," so, again, no surprise, but...

I have another idea. I think that any adult involved in the school system - faculty, administration, staff, school board, should be subject to the same rule, except, in this case, every police stop will be reported to the students in their schools and to the newspapers and television stations. After all, mistrust is a two-way street.

- Ira Socol

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