Saturday, February 24, 2007

Grade inflation again - Nationwide problem, so it is OK not to learn?

Here is the story out of the LA Times from yesterday (made the front page of the Post and inside the SI). I wrote about this the other day commenting on Poshard's proud announcement of SIU's 2.96 overall GPA. I like this quote out of the LA Times story
"I think we're sleeping through a crisis," said David P. Driscoll, the Massachusetts commissioner of education, during a Washington news conference convened by the Department of Education. He called the study results "stunning."
One of the interesting differences between those of us that hire people and those of you who educate, is I am only interested in the product. I don't care that the kid should know more, but you decided to pass him anyway. They show up in my life, I take a snapshot of what I think they might be able to do to help me and move on. I can tell you that SIU students aren't good enough, but maybe that is true across the country? It sure looks like the high school students aren't good enough either.

When you talk a step back and ask people if they think we are at the end of the American Empire, the results might surprise you in how negative people around you really are. I suspect we will look back at the Baby Boom generation (mine), their two family income greed, divorce rate and general lack of parenting interest (beyond their kids doing well at sports, of course) as a key moment in US history. The kids in school today are not getting as good of an education as kids 20 and 40 years ago. All the computers, calculators and other toys are not as good as having your parent care more about your school work then they do about America Idol, the NFL or their drugs.

It is hard work to discipline your kids all the time, it is even harder to discipline yourself. Maybe we will get a work ethic again if we go through another depression? Maybe our scientists will deliver unlimited clean power and everyone will have everything they want? It maybe time to reread the Foundation Trilogy and see that Asimov has to say about what will happen when humans don't have to strive to have all commercial goods. Hopefully we will not find ourselves in the William Gibson future instead.

Sometimes I wonder if teacher tenure is a good idea. Should you have employment for life when you do a bad job? If teaching standards are going down, does that mean we are protecting the teachers from excellence by securing their jobs? Not talking about researchers and tenure, but grade school and high school teachers. If standards are dropping, why are we protecting their jobs?

It is interesting when a reporter puts really facts behind what we all know isn't it? Kind of brings things into focus.

Your comments are welcome.


Anonymous said...

Without tenure grade inflation would soar. Especially at SIUC - management would fire the best and keep the rest.

This is not to say that there are no problems with tenure systems. There are, but grade inflation is not one of them.

Gary Walkup said...

Is it possible you might be generalizing just a teeny-tiny bit?

Peter in Carbondale said...

I have read the links that the first anonymous commenter sent in, they are interesting. The seem to pretty much back up my blogs writings in my mind. The problem that I have pointed out about my observations of SIU students and now the LA Times is pointing out from government studies, the students know less, but are getting higher grades!

To say that SIUC management would fire the best and keep the rest is just silly. Many of the best SIUC professors are already gone, they can move because they are better and just leave for better jobs. Look at the the college of Mass Comm, what percentage of their best performers are gone now because of their incompeitent Dean? SIU management could rid themselves of 20% to 30% of the professors without any loss in performance in the university. Further, if those people were at risk to be fired, it is quite likely they wouldn't be retired in place.

I wasn't writing about SIU, just grade and high school tenure before. The answer is about the same, the current experiment in education is the US isn't working and it needs to change.

Regarding Gary's comment about generalizing, it could be. Or it could be that by hiding out in a college town and only dealing with people with multiple advanced degrees, that are on a slow moving state payroll, might not be sharpening a true view of the state of the world? I'm not sure. Did you read the LA Times article that I linked to in the original entry? GPA is up, AP classes are up, knowledge based tests are down? You look at the quotes from the professionals in the article?

There comes a moment that you need to decide, do I believe my own crap or will I take a step back and try to take a hard and critical look at what I'm doing. I specialize in talking a hard look and I'm from a family of people that do the same. It isn't pleasant, but you often figure things out before the masses.

The teachers in our grade schools and high schools in Carbondale know there is something wrong, but most are afraid to do anything about it. The professors are SIU know there is something wrong, but have a difficult problem of dealing with many students who aren't qualified to be in class (it is very late there to instill work habits). So what do we do? At the moment, we are doing nothing.

Maybe we need the USSR to beat us into space to make learning important in the US again? I realize that the poor results are mostly because of parents, but shouldn't the schools be dealing with that problem instead of just producing marginal results?

Gary Walkup said...

I don't know about grade inflation, but i share your feelings about SOME (but not all) multiple-degreed people. Need someone to do some SIU marketing? Hire a car salesman! They may not have a PhD in salesmanship, but if they don't produce, they don't have a job, either! And any GOOD salesman knows there's no 9-4 hours with an hour for lunch, it's more like 8-8, don't be late!

Anonymous said...

A big problem here is changing attitudes about education. People want degrees, not an education. Universities (in particular) are poor arenas for job training, but are capable of educating willing individuals. And education has all kinds of benefits past better jobs.

But when you think of students as consumers rather than as students, the attitude becomes focused on mass production (how many served) rather than quality. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with car repair men (they should be paid well too), but why do you need a college diploma for that? What a waste of the student's time, as well as the universitys.

A sad consequences is that people now think they need more degrees to distinguish themselves on the market because 1) more people have college diplomas and 2) GPA is less related to performance (though I still think that has nothing to do with administration). So we're watering down graduate work too now.

Peter in Carbondale said...

Wow, two really good comments in a row. Very nice.

Anonymous said...

The real mistake is treating the students as "customers."
If you're going to equate a university education with a business model, you probably need to think of the taxpayers, the citizens, as the customers. They are, after all, footing the biggest part of the bill. Since society decided that higher education is a good thing, it should be thought of as the customer.
The students are the raw product. They are sought out, brought in and molded into productive members of society. Think at it like this, "Give the customer what he wants." If students were the customers we would indeed be giving them all A's and they wouldn't have to go to class. I guess under this scenario, professors are the factory workers who take the raw product and convert it into something useful. As in any factory, when a bad one come down the line, it is thrown out. The best pieces are shown off as an example of what that company can produce. Starting to sound like a university? Students simply cannot be the customers. Would you agree?

Anonymous said...

Create an incentive that rewards good teachers. Right now part of your evaluation as a professor comes from the rating your students give you. That is insane. Teachers can buy off the students with lax grading and little homework.

Why not create a department wide test that all classes must take at the end of the semester (the accounting department already does this) and see which students are passing and which are not. If you don't pass you don't move on to the next course. Same goes for the teacher, if your failure rate is constistenly high, you don't get a merit raise (or some other incentive).

Fraydog said...

In some areas it's okay to treat the students as customers. I don't think it works in the classroom. Yet, a lot more people here can stand to be friendly.