Schools Combat “Toxic Grading” with Minimum Grade Policies for the Minimum Wage Generation

A teacher in Florida recently made national news — and more importantly, provided much needed exposure to an alarming trend — when she was fired for refusing to give a student a “50” on an assignment that he did not bother to hand in.  This policy is, unfortunately, part of a growing national movement, already in place in Philadelphia, and Fairfax County, and other school districts, that compels teachers to give no grade lower than a “50,” no matter what the student actually scored, if he even scored anything at all.  This makes sense because what better way to prepare students for life after school than to give minimum grades to those who, thanks to bad schools, are destined to earn the minimum wage!  Instead of teaching skills and adding value to children so they can actually compete in the real world, let’s teach them that they are entitled, as a matter of right, to a minimum amount of compensation, no matter how little they contribute, just because they exist.


And because this is such an indefensibly stupid idea, it is, of course, fully supported by the geniuses at the National School Boards Association (NSBA), which cites to “research” performed by T. R. Guskey, a professor of Education at the University of Kentucky, which demonstrates that “There are significant problems with the policy of using zeros as discipline. No studies support the use of zeros or low grades as effective punishment.”


Yeah, well, it’s not supposed to be punishment, any more so than low wages are punishment. It’s supposed to be a reflection of the work performed.  And if a zero is ineffective “punishment,” then how is a “50” more punishing?  More to the point, if anything is punishing the child, it is to give him a score in excess of what he earned, and along with it, a sense of entitlement that will cause him to fall rapidly behind everyone else in the real world.


The NSBA also cites the arguments of a blogger (seriously?) named Trent deJong (“educator,” age 30), who points out that “Many educators do not support the use of zeros, which is partially because a zero is almost never an accurate reflection of what a student has learned.  Theoretically, zeros can be used under the no-zero policy if it is an accurate reflection of what the student knows. But, it is highly unlikely that the student knows absolutely nothing.”


Well, I’d have thought it highly unlikely that an “educator” knows absolutely nothing, but here we are!


Besides, it’s not about what they learned, it’s about what they’ve earned.  And while a zero might not be a reflection of the knowledge they have accumulated, neither is a “50,” or any other arbitrarily chosen minimum, and it is certainly not a reflection of what they’ve accomplished.


But as long as we are focusing on what they are learning, what exactly do you think they are learning when you reward a total lack of effort with a grade well in excess of that?


Meh, who cares?


And of course, because no idiotic liberal argument could be complete without resorting to hollow buzzwords, the NSBA points out that giving grades that reflect achievement is – I’m not making this up – toxic grading!


“Some even label the use of zeros for missing work as a ‘toxic’ grading policy,” writes the NSBA. “The use of zeros can cause students to withdraw from learning… Giving a student a zero on any graded assignment lowers more than the student’s morale, because it is nearly impossible to recover academically from one or multiple zeros.”


First of all, a student who earns a zero has already withdrawn from learning, at least for that assignment.  That’s what the grade reflects.  And as far as “morale” goes, kids can’t learn real self-esteem unless it is attached to real achievement.  Gifting them grades they did not earn does not boost morale, it boosts a sense of entitlement, while setting them up for morale-shattering life experiences resulting from the piss poor social mores of failure with which these kids are being engrained.  Seriously, this borders on child abuse and neglect!


If anything will lower their morale it’s when they achieve adulthood and get fired from their low-skill job, because they didn’t complete a task on time, if at all, and they cannot understand why this is a problem.


Astonishingly, the NSBA complains that correlating grades with performance is that the real world is not like that! “The most common justification of the use of zeros is that they teach students about the ‘real world’ and that life is harsh… However, one might question whether giving zeros for missed assignments without allowing students to make up the work truly reflects the harsh reality of the real world. Consider this scenario: Malcolm’s credit card payment is due on the fifth of the month. On the sixth, the credit card company tells Malcolm, ‘Well, you didn’t make your payment on time, so now you don’t have to pay, but this will go on your credit report.’ That is not realistic. In real life, Malcolm would still be expected to pay his bill, and the credit card company would not report his late payment until several weeks or months had passed without payment. Educators who use the zero tell students that they are preparing them for the ‘real world,’ when in fact there is no correlation.”


OK, now this is just getting silly.  Forgetting (but not disregarding) the racist undertones of using an obviously ethnic name to represent a fictional character who doesn’t pay his bills, you should ask yourself: are these the sorts of adults you’re trying to produce?  Credit card deadbeats?


If anyone thinks that deadlines, and proficiency, and being responsible adults, do not matter in the real world, they need to spend more time in it, and less time in their tenured public sector job.  If a lawyer misses a statute of limitations, his client’s lawsuit is barred, or a criminal defendant is not prosecuted.  If you forget to vote, they don’t let you do it the next day.  If you blow off a job interview and call the next day to reschedule, you won’t get the job.  If your house is placed for a sheriff’s sale because you fell behind on your mortgage, and you’re a day late in addressing that, your house is gone.  If your boss needs something done by Wednesday and it’s still not done by Thursday, what do you think happens then?  What do you think happens in the medical field, or military, when assignments are late, or outright neglected?


Or, let’s use an example that is more tailored to this generation: What happens if you’re bussing a table and just forget to bring out an order?  Are they supposed to leave you a tip anyway? Do you think you’ll keep your job?


Oh, but it’s not about educating children, you see.  Over at the George Lucas Education Foundation (yes, there is such a thing, and yes, it is the Star Wars guy), Emelina Minero, assistant editor of, says that to many people, minimum grading policies are more about “equity,” the multi-purpose Leftist buzzword which roughly translates as “expect less out of this group, and ensure they receive the same results.”


“For many in favor of a no-zero grading policy, it comes down to equity,” says Minero. “Many educators argue that home-life factors create barriers to student learning, that low grades encourage struggling students to give up, and that teachers who can’t get their kids to comply use grades to punish rather than to assess knowledge.”


Fine, but nobody is saying that children with less than ideal home lives do not have unique challenges.  Of course they do.  But the answer is additional attention, and structure, and instruction, not gaming the results and pretending that learning is occurring, especially when what they should be learning, first and foremost, is that the real world doesn’t care about equity. It cares about results.  If anything, “at risk” youth should be taught this more acutely.


But apparently, teaching anything is asking too much.  As it is, even though our national high school graduation rate is 80%, only 37 percent of 12th-graders tested proficient or better in reading, and only 25 percent did so in math, which is all the more remarkable when one considers that the standards we use today to measure 12th graders are those we used to use on 9th graders.


In other words, the participation trophy generation is getting participation diplomas.  What kind of life can we expect from kids like this, other than that of minimum wage work, and government dependency?


But let’s not address that, because that’s not important.  What’s important is “fairness,” as though it is somehow only “fair” to give someone a grade that is not commensurate with their performance. “If you are using a 100 point system, 0’s are unfair,” says teacher Stephan Currence in the Edutopia article. “Which student has demonstrated greater mastery: student A: 100, 100, 100, 100, 0, or student B: 75, 80, 90, 80, 90? Mathematically, it is student B with an 83 average, but student A has clearly demonstrated greater mastery.”


Number one, that’s not clear at all.  Points are actually a pretty good indicator of mastery.  And how about this question: which one do you think would keep his job?  Which one do you think will be a better, more responsible adult?  Which father did a better job feeding his family: the one who gave a full meal every day of the week, or the one who gave a three-course meal four times, and on the fifth day everyone starved?


That doesn’t matter.  What matters is equity, and fairness, and above all else, self-esteem, because if we don’t give kids what they want, they’ll pout. “Instead of working harder, the vast majority of students who get an F tend to withdraw, try less, and come to school less because they’re taking an F for what it actually stands for: failure,” says Sarah Duncan, the co-director of the University of Chicago’s Network for College Success, an organization that “works with high schools to improve grades and graduation rates for entering freshman.” “They interpret an F as ‘You do not belong in this environment.’”


Actually, that would be a proper interpretation.  If a student can’t pass the tests and graded learning assignments, he almost certainly is in the wrong environment, which is probably a result of that idiot school “socially promoting” that student to a grade in which he did not belong in the first place, because they didn’t want to hurt his feelings by holding him back, and, besides, they had to make room for the next group of young scholars.


By the way — I’m sorry, I missed something — now you’re saying we can’t even give out Fs?


Notice, if you will, what Duncan’s job is: “to improve grades and graduation rates.”  Not to improve learning.  Just adjust the score, and her mission is accomplished.  And that’s the common thread here.  Not educating, not preparing the kid for real life, not empowering him to break the cycle of poverty and dependency.  It’s gaming the system to produce an artificial result.  And what is underlying that, the unspoken, uncomfortable, unacknowledged reality, is that these teachers who oppose accurate grading and evaluation do so because they see it as being graded and evaluated themselves.  And the better the students do — or at least, the higher the grades, and the higher the graduation rate — the better they look.


This is why we need school choice: there are too many irredeemably stupid people in the education industry, with too many stupid, largely self-serving ideas, and simply having school board elections, where nobody knows the candidates or what they stand for, is inadequate.  We need competition in the education industry / racket, because in a competitive environment, bad ideas die, and bad institutions go out of business, and bad workers lose their jobs.  We need to empower parents who would actually like their child to have a chance at life, and let them choose which schools their children will attend, so they can avoid all these public school failure factories and their emphasis on such nonsense as “social promotion” to advance kids from grade to grade regardless of whether they learned anything; and “learning how to learn” (which is totally meaningless) instead of actually learning anything; and eliminating standardized testing because, well, we don’t want everyone to see that nobody is learning anything; and evaluating students on whether they improve rather than whether they are proficient; and above all else, making sure everyone feels good about themselves by giving everyone grades they want, rather than the grades they deserve, because that’s mean.


The alternative, which these “educators” seem fine with, is to let these kids fail at life.


And then, when they’re living off the government, and demanding $15 per hour to work a cash register, and complaining that they’re being replaced by machines, and missing their child support payments (because who cares if they’re on time, or made at all?), just remember, all this social and income inequality is a result of racism and capitalism, and the answer is not to correct foolish assumptions, but for socialism to drag everyone else down to their level.


And, of course, to spend more money on public schools.


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