Mount Olive school district in New Jersey voted to ban the D in their schools much to the elation of parents and many students interviewed by various media outlets; the thoughts behind it, increase motivation and force slacker students to raise their standard. A quote from a Mount Olive school official read like this: who wants to pay for “D” quality plumbing? Fly the skies with a “D” rated pilot? Settle for a “D” restaurant?” Another said it was non useful to society calling it a throw away grade; a parent commented on the subject saying at home they tell their kids a D is an F, while an on slot of Facebook postings by other students everywhere are calling it the worst idea ever. A support system has been set up for students including a watch list and the option to attend evening school to make up a failed course. Many see this and say it’s about time when internationally we keep falling behind other countries and nationally it appears standards couldn’t be lower, but is this a good idea?
Unfortunately the Mount Olive school district gets an admirable A for effort but an absolute F for practicality, because, unlike the parent quoted above, a D is not an F; they are 2 different letters of the alphabet and 2 different grade distinctions, going back nearly to the inception of the American public education system. It is nice to see that downsizing has made it into the American classroom along with the American supermarket, don’t forget the American workplace; while parents are jumping for joy at the decision, they might want to consider this is a 5 percent difference. If it were to be enacted nation wide in some cases it would be a 10 percent difference; they should consider how they would like a 5 or 10 percent decrease in their cable service because they were, all the sudden, determined to only be paying for D quality cable or how they would like a 5 or 10 percent increase in their workload on the job because management suddenly decided that their job description was D level and the company had to bring it up to a C, causing more work for an already stressed out you. That is what this district intends to do to it’s students; simultaneously the policy does nothing to bring about the changes they want to see increased learning, motivation only serves to raise grades and test scores.
Problems with such a policy now in progress abound; precisely due to the fact it’s not so much about habitual slacker D students; it’s about students who get a D in one class such as the foreign language, once an elective option, now 1 year is required or the financial awareness class now mandatory for high school graduation. With the increasing push to compete internationally, some schools have increased the number of core subject credits needed to graduate; instead of 2 math credits you now need 3 maybe even 4 same thing with science, in particular, English and so forth. This means students who were on track or slightly ahead in 8th and 9th grade math at algebra 2 are going to be taking calculus by the time they are seniors; they may have done well in algebra 1-3, geometry but simply cannot grasp calculus. It is extraordinarily unfair to punish them by saying getting a D, passing isn’t good enough. Nearly identical scenarios exist in science; students at school’s demanding more core subject credits find themselves in chemistry as seniors. Again while they may have done well in pervious science courses, they may simply not understand chemistry, incidentally a classroom that has a high rate of injury and accidents due to chemicals and equipment being handled.
At the same time, being a district wide policy is also cause for concern; is a kid going to fail elementary school, flunk a grade level because they got a D in gym, being the fat kid or the age equivalent of a 98 pond weakling? Are we going to do the same with those kids who flunk art or music perhaps because of a motor skills problem or because they just aren’t as creative as their peers, or appear tone deaf? Reality is many schools have done away with all of the above for budget reasons, yet for the ones that have them as more than after school activities, here is a possible result. Even some parents agree with the Facebook postings calling it the worst idea ever, parents with kids who struggle academically; it is a potential disaster to students who have learning disabilities. Furthermore it removes all chance for experimentation, for students; here is where almost anyone has to disagree with the school official claiming D’s are not useful to society. They can be very useful to a student in middle and high school trying to find out not only who they are but what they are good at, allowing them to take a class find out if they like the subject, have any talent for it and if they don’t, just pass the course and move on. Already students fear trying new things because it might bring down their GPA, a fear that will only increase at Mount Olive. Then we wonder why kids go to college and can’t pick a major, seem lost and disinterested.
Returning to kids with learning disabilities exposes other issues surrounding an idea now become practice, having potentially huge effects on society; aside from no doubt increasing the dropout rate, flirting with increasing the suicide rate among an already high risk group and making competition exponentially more cut throat than it currently seems to be, what is happening in New Jersey has the serious potential to deny high school diplomas to students who will take that diploma and go on to become top notch plumbers, construction workers, mechanics, CNA’s, dental hygienists, home health aids, cooks, daycare providers, who would be excellent at what they chose to do, impossible without first getting a high school diploma. It punishes people whose natural talents, skills and interests lay outside traditional, general academic education, punishes the kid who tries their best and a D is all they can get. D’s are very useful to society when they mean the difference between a high school diploma and not, moving on to a self sustainable career and not, because for every slacker whose standards they raise another will simply drop out; those with disabilities will be applying for benefits not college, trade school or employment, while other drop outs become welfare recipients, criminals or life long prison inmates.
Similarly it does nothing to address why kids are getting one D or many of them; all comments from the teachers, “I have kids who walk the borderline and they know it; they admit it, they calculate what they need to get the D” or the one who jokingly added, “then they’ll turn around and say they can’t do math,” point to the kids as slackers. But what is the real why; is it because they just don’t care, or is it because they know, whatever it is they do with their life, it won’t involve advanced math and science, that the most sophisticated thing they will do with math is cook a meal or balance their checkbook, to say nothing of the ability to calculate a D does not involve the skills taught in algebra 1-3. Middle school students know their grades do not count toward their future until high school and do we want to push, push, push them to care more so that they burn out of life by the time they hit college; you see this often times with troubled kids or over scheduled kids who are exhausted by college, drop out and work minimum wage. Is it a time management skill; as one parent pointed out, kids today are over scheduled from the time they are toddlers, are some kids getting a D in math or science to spend more time on courses they like better, classes in which they excel, things they know will help them reach their intended career goal? Could it be a balancing act between their huge history project, their midterm English paper and science class, or is it they are balancing a job, extra curricular activities, to get into a good college or to be employed once they get out of school, since work history and experience seem to matter more than education.
It does nothing to address individuals getting D’s due to poor teaching, difficulty understanding a teacher’s accent, the fact that teachers when asked by students why they are being forced to study algebra, are more likely to be exasperated and irritated than explain the cool jobs they can get by doing well. It does nothing to handle the subjectivity of grading material in certain subjects; if you give 5 teachers in the same school, even the same district teaching the same grade level a paper, you will get 5 different opinions and likely 5 different grades. Bringing us to one Mount Olive teacher who formerly taught college classes where he enacted a policy A, B or do it do it over. What might be a B or C to one could be a D or an F to another; that may work for term papers or projects, not so well for math or science where answers are more cut and dry, right or wrong, classes that involve tests limiting the ability to do it over. Colleges also have a tendency to punish the intuitive, the student on the cutting edge of research the professor isn’t aware of; another sticking point applicable to colleges is the difference between classes within a major and a general education course; in non major courses you are allowed to get a D and not have to retake the class.
College has increasingly become something you do to get employed not something you experience because you want to learn; on that same note, there is a backlash developing among students and employers shying away from colleges, college graduates and going more for trade schools and training programs giving actual, practical job skills, hints the flaw in one students thinking when he stated “its not like a nice college is going to see all D’s on a report card and want to accept that student.” As alluded to before, often times it is one or 2 D’s throughout a high school career not all; however, even for the ones who have mostly D’s, they go on to art school, culinary school, where admission to the school is dependent on your art portfolio, your inherent ability to cook a dish, pass an entrance exam of specific core concepts in whatever field not your GPA. Speaking from personal observation, I knew and know kids who barely got by in high school, hardly paid attention, talked with friends more than anything else who are now CNA’S, nursing home workers, dental hygienists, who are self sufficient, raising families; conversely many college students find themselves unemployed, under or overqualified and falling back on their high school or college job to get by.
Then there is the support system put in place to help students including extra help classes, tutoring from other students and an evening class for $150 to repeat a failed course. The latter being the gimmick portion of this policy equation, making it appear to be more about the money to be gleaned from a semi well to do community off of “failing” kids. Peer tutoring puts at a disadvantage those students who need professional teachers who know how to teach, who can identify sources of confusion, find creative solutions playing to a student’s strengths to help them assimilate information in more difficult areas. The system, rather than providing support, puts at a disadvantage any poor student whose family cannot come up with $150, disenfranchises kids who cannot stay after school for tutoring because parents work and can’t pick them up, they baby sit younger siblings or because they have a job, further short changing the ones needing help when parents can’t help their child themselves and can’t pay for private tutoring.
Again speaking, this time from personal experience, I was a kid who struggled in math at a time when after school help was all that was available, but I came from a single parent home where that parent was exhausted from their manual labor job, nor could they assist me with algebra themselves. I scraped by with a D, took more practical math courses moving into sophomore year of high school, actually in a high school building with more course options, went on to college graduating with honors, though not in a math intensive field. In addition, even for those who can attend tutoring, take the extra help classes, it diverts time from extra curricular activities that can help in deciding or gaining knowledge to get into a career, it detracts from built in socialization vital to career success in an employment world more about who you know than what you know
Last but most importantly the premise presented in the opening paragraph is wrong; getting a D in history is not the same as a D quality pilot, getting a D in math has no baring on the food someone cooks for a restaurant, getting a D in a foreign language class has nothing to do with plumbing. Officials at Mount Olive have made the monumental mistake of equalizing general education and specialty, field specific education. Of course no one is going to pass a D level pilot or plumber, give a culinary certificate to a D level cook. Presumably, if you are majoring in a specific field of study, receiving training for a certain job or category of related jobs you have some interest in that area at the very least are good at cooking, plumbing, care giving, otherwise why would you be doing it, studying for it, reaching for it as a goal? And the best thing we can do for society’s function is let them reach for it, even if that means the occasional D.