Tackling Academic Failure

By lex, on November 15th, 2010

The West Potomac High School principal has found an innovative way to reduce the number of failing grades given out come report card time – banish them:

The report cards that arrived home late last week showed few failing grades but instead marks of “I” for incomplete, indicating that students still owe their teachers essential work. They will get Fs only if they fail to complete assignments and learn the content in the months to come.

The change in educational philosophy is intended to encourage students to continue working toward mastery of material rather than accepting a failing grade and moving on. Schools throughout the Washington area and the nation have made other moves to improve grading methods, especially as they affect low-performing students, though few have gone so far as West Potomac High, in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.

“It’s a huge paradigm shift,” said principal Clifford Hardison, who recalls that when year-end grades were tallied last June at West Potomac, he counted nearly 2,000 Fs, with a large group of teens racking up more than one failed course.

This is indeed a paradigm shift: The school has gone at a stroke from grade inflation to academic capitulation.

For my own part, I’m much more concerned about our diminishing stocks of intellectual capital than trade imbalances or sovereign debt: A productive economy, fueled by technological innovation, will in time create enough wealth to restore fiscal balance sheets. But too many seats at too many of our most prestigious institutions of higher learning are filled with foreign students to whom we will decline to issue work visas. They will return home, taking with them a non-refundable investment in intellectual capital. The real crisis will come thirty years from now, when their professors have retired and there will be no one to replace them.

Meanwhile, our most talented students will continue to pursue careers that lead to personal enrichment rather than fulfillment, cashing in at Wall Street rather than working in the real economy. And if the country follows the lead of the West Potomac High School, the rest of their colleagues in the academic cohort will have been told that they are “too big to fail.”

Here’s your participation trophy.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Neptunus Lex

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