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The Biggest Scandal in Education Is Hiding in Plain Sight

The Biggest Scandal in Education Is Hiding in Plain Sight

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Dan Weisberg’s recent commentary “The biggest scandal in education is hiding in plain sight,” posted on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute website, posits that there are huge grading inconsistencies across America’s high schools, and parents who rely on those grades are being misled by their schools and teachers. Weisberg writes that for millions of families, report cards are misleading and offer false confidence that children are well prepared for their futures.

Weisberg discusses the variability of grading standards as evidenced through a study funded by the Fordham Institute that found huge variation in grading standards among Algebra I teachers in North Carolina. In the study, the researchers found that grading standards were not based on policy, but were influenced by factors such as the teacher’s experience, the selectivity of the college attended by the teacher, and even their gender. The study provided evidence that students learned more from teachers with high grading standards, and those gains continued for years. Additionally, resources like talent, funding, and access to excellent teaching influenced outcomes, which meant that suburban schools typically did better than schools in the North Carolina cities.

Author Weisberg also discusses a study funded by his organization, TNTP: reimagine teaching. The study found that out of students who earned Bs, only 35 percent were at grade level on state reading and math tests, and just half met the benchmark for college readiness on the ACT or SAT. According to the author, these discrepancies were not just from low grading standards on challenging work, but from a lack of opportunities to attempt appropriate grade level work. Most of the students studied in the Opportunity Myth project spent most of their time doing work below their grade level.

Families and students need to know exactly what grades mean, according to Weisberg, and the first step toward solving that is embracing transparency. Schools should make it clear that an A or B does not mean performance at grade level or toward college preparedness. Teachers who apply higher standards should not be pressured by parents, students, and supervisors to give better grades, particularly if doing so does not tell the story about preparedness.

I am glad that Dan Weisberg applauded the Thomas Fordham Institute for conducting and publishing this research. As someone who knows a little bit about learning outcomes assessment, I am somewhat surprised that there has not been more of a focus from schools and teachers agreeing on how to build a course syllabus based on specific course objectives, a transparent grading rubric, and measuring the learning outcomes based on students’ learning achievements.

There exists a discipline, multiple research papers and textbooks, and annual conferences that can assist faculty with building a syllabus and a course that provides transparency on expectations and measures outcomes after the course has been completed. If the goal is for students to learn Algebra I at the state or national average for their grade level, it should not be difficult to state that in a syllabus and explain why the grading represents that achievement or not. Sadly, dealing with the issues of education inequality is something that continues to be unresolved to the detriment of our country.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.

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