For Real Teachers In Our Toughest Schools
Saturday February 17th 2018



Poor Kids Are the Only Ones Being Graded in This Country: Don’t Rich Kids Deserve Fs Too?

Image result for images grades f

Imagine you are the dean of a private Catholic high school where the parents pay $30,000 a year per student. Your stated college-going rate is 98%, which means for their money, those parents seem to have a guarantee little Jimmy goes to college. As a dean, that pretty much means it is your job to make damn sure you are sending 98% of them to college. So let me ask you a question: What happens when these kids start getting Cs or Ds?

The average GPA last year of freshmen accepted into my alma mater UC Davis was a 3.9-4.2. My freshmen just went there on a field trip where they were told, not so gently, that if they see a C on your transcript they essentially throw it away. And that is UC Davis! I’m not even talking about Cal Berkeley, UCLA, or Stanford. Colleges are getting harder and harder to get into at the same time they are getting more and more expensive. This puts a premium on every single grade on a kid’s transcript.

With that in mind, if your job depends on sending all your high school students to college, what that means is you can’t be giving them Cs and Ds in high school. So the answer to the above query—What happens when these kids start getting Cs or Ds?—is simple: You don’t give them Cs or Ds, and you certainly don’t give them Fs.

Let me put it to you a little more bluntly so you understand what I’m saying: Poor kids in public schools are the only ones actually being graded in this country.

This charter school revolution seems to be more of the same. Every charter school’s goal is to have amazing college going rates, however, the only way kids get into college is to have amazing GPAs. I’m not the first one to point this out, but we know what happens when students start failing in charter schools: They are told they are not the right fit, they are pressured to leave so they do not drag down their test scores or college going rates, and they end up in my classroom at the public school. This is the basic problem behind both the private and charter model, is that the investors and administrators have a vested, financial interest in student success, so that students who don’t succeed are kicked out, or passed along with good grades. Common sense must conclude that in a group of 500 teenagers it cannot be true that ALL of them are committed to school, trying their hardest, and ready for college—that is preposterous. We’re talking about teenagers!

The idea that a school sends 98% of its students to college is disingenuous to me. Are we really to believe that ALL rich kids are trying their hardest? ALL of them are engaged in school and NONE of them are into drugs, are fed up with math, or feel like giving up. Do rich kids never have bad days?

The fact is, rich kids do more drugs than poor kids. Rich kids are just as likely to think school sucks, to hate math, to be bored and checked out in class, to talk back to their teachers and to be lazy. There is even some evidence that shows they are more likely to have psychological problems. Teachers I know who work at rich schools say this. But they also say this: “If I give out too many Bs and Cs, I have the principal in my room the next day.” This is called Grade Inflation, and it is inequality at its worst.

I cannot believe there are actual, physical schools in this country whose policy is teachers can’t give out too many Bs or Cs—But there it is. Not only is it true, in private schools it is the rule, not the exception.

Here’s another fun fact. We know that HALF of college students are not proficient in English or Math when they get to college. But we have to remember that by and large the kids that go to college are rich kids from affluent schools. That essentially means HALF of rich kids are not proficient in English or Math. It begs the question: Then how did they get into college??? The answer is simple: They were passed along because you aren’t allowed to grade kids in places like Silicon Valley. When poor kids do drugs and don’t learn math they don’t make it out of high school. When rich kids do drugs and don’t learn math they end up in college.

What’s the solution? That’s easy, although it won’t ever happen: We need to start grading rich kids.

We need school administrators to stand up to parents when they show up in a Range Rover and demand to know why little Billy has a C in math. If Billy is a pot-head who cuts school, doesn’t do homework, and fails all his tests, it shouldn’t be too hard to prove. We can’t have schools whose stated policy is that teachers can’t give Bs and Cs. We shouldn’t even have ANY school on earth who can say 98% of its students go to college—that is insane.

Education in this country will never be on a level playing field if the only students who are actually assessed and given REAL grades are kids in poverty. This is just another one of those invisible barriers, another form of oppression, another version of class warfare. It is a travesty and absolutely a crisis. Students in low-income schools don’t know how to advocate for grades, their parents rarely get involved at school because they work three jobs for poverty wages, and unfortunately teachers in poor schools have no second thoughts about failing poor kids.

We need to start grading rich kids on both their effort and ability, just like we do at our low-income public schools. And when they don’t keep up their end of the bargain, we need to FAIL them as well.

Or maybe what we should do at our public schools is adopt a policy that 98% of our students go to college, and then start grading accordingly.

Reader Feedback

11 Responses to “Poor Kids Are the Only Ones Being Graded in This Country: Don’t Rich Kids Deserve Fs Too?”

  1. Judy Austin says:

    Middle class are also allowed to earn an F. I’m a department chair at a suburban high school of 2500. Sadly — and to our great frustration– many middle class kids are unmotivated and undisciplined. There is a real “I don’t care” mentality in so many. Believe me, we have a substantial failure rate. Thankfully, we have a strong administration who supports teachers in honest grading. We do everything we can to push our students to learn and to grow, but there are many who just won’t. And those students do fail.

    • Thanks Judy, you’ve pointed out some of the issues in suburban education, which sound fascinating. I know many teachers who teach in more affluent suburban schools, and they all talk about the lack of motivation, boredom and entitlement you allude to. And you are correct in pointing out that schools like yours do hold middle and upper class students accountable. There are many schools, teachers, and administrators that do just what you are doing. But I still think when you give out those Ds and Fs, you are held accountable and must prove it, and I bet at your school the pressures from parents do push grades higher at every turn. At low income schools there are absolutely NO pressures.

  2. mitch says:

    Another thought provoking piece and one with which I agree! Thank you, Matt! For anyone who has taught or now teaches in low-income public schools the message here rings true. Keep it up!

  3. Larry says:

    I agree, grad inflation is real. I also advocate for a dissolution of the ‘grouping’ metrics kept in any school. I don’t think records should reflect a student’s socio economic status. It should reflect whether they are meeting expectations or not, and if they’re not, they should receive more attention in helping to correct their problem. But the tone of this article i do not agree with. I have seen no metrics to suggest what you assert. How do you know that ‘rich’ kids are getting a pass relative to ‘poor’ kids. There are those who would suggest just the opposite. If you want to track a metric, follow the student’s progress and see if their grades there reflect what their high school grades showed. If not, then maybe there is a problem at the high school, but to say its at ‘rich’ kids schools is disingenuous at best. There are ‘not so rich’ students in charter schools because their parents are willing to sacrifice so their children can get out of what has been turned into public reformatory schools. Public schools and their attendant politicians and administrators focus on diversity and multiculturalism, throwing money at the problem which ends up in the administrators and politicians pockets. Focus on studies, individuals students, and track them in college in you’re really concerned. Telling teachers to stop grade inflation is never going to happen if they’re held responsible for a student’s failure due to factors beyond the teachers control.

    • Larry, I don’t think it is “disingenuous at best” to claim rich kids have unseen advantages over poor kids, especially in our school system, which is what this article is about. There are plenty of “metrics” as you call them, and many more articles about this problem, many of which I linked in my piece. Sure, sometimes poor kids are passed along in similar ways, I am simply claiming it is much more likely that affluent kids are passed along because of pressures by parents and administrators. Ask any teacher at any affluent high school. Then talk to a teacher at a low income public school. No one thinks twice about giving a poor kid a D, if you give a rich kid a D, you better be ready to go to war, and you better be prepared to either back it up or change it.

  4. wellbasically says:

    This article seems to be written by somebody with no experience in a large inner city school system. The grades given out in such a school do not reflect what kids are capable of any better than those given out in suburban schools.

    My kids went to the Boston schools for their grade school and high school. We earn enough to live ok in Boston but we cannot save and have a hard time paying for car repairs, medical expenses etc. Private school is basically not an option for my kids. My wife and I are college educated and felt we can navigate dealing with public institutions like a public school. Boy were we wrong.

    My kids excell at the activities they are in with suburban kids — sports, volunteering, summer jobs and school year internships. Everything says they should have been able to do well in school. And in many classes they did. However they averaged one teacher a year who was going to blow up their cumulative GPA. Primarily these teachers came from a British colonial tradition of simply lecturing and then finding out which kids were smart (or were willing to cheat) and using those kids as a weapon against their average classmate.

    I had one daughter whose English grades looked like this:
    8th grade with Teacher X: A
    9th grade with Teacher Y: D
    10th grade with Teacher Z: A
    11th grade with Teacher Y: D
    12th grade AP English: A

    When we go to 11th grade she had no way to switch out of Teacher Y’s class because they just can’t handle that in the BPS. I told her to take the bullet because she was doing well in her other classes.

    But there is really no way to balance out getting D’s as far as your GPA.

    In suburban schools if you get a C or less, the teachers are supposed to “work with you” to get up to a C. This does not happen in Boston Public Schools. Not because the schools are particularly challenging. My kids did not get a great education unfortunately. But because the teachers have no motivation to change it. It’s a lot of work to teach better and some people just don’t want to try. Or they feel they are standing up to helicopter parents, but the effect is to disadvantage students in these poor public school districts. It doesn’t help anybody except the suburban high school students.

    If the poor parents had the ability to fight back against terrible teaching and unfair grading, you can bet that grade inflation would be happening in inner-city high schools too! But your solution is to keep that as is, and just make suburban schools as bad and unresponsive as the inner city ones. If you instituted inner-city standards across the suburbs, the kids everywhere would just get a bad education and bad grades. How is that better?

    If you want to give out better grades, teach better.

    • Dude, come on now. Did you even read this article? You are, well, basically, arguing the exact same thing I am. My main point here is kids in poor urban public schools are not graded properly according to their effort and ability. You start your response by saying it sounds like I have no experience in urban schools, then go on to defend my argument with every word you type. Did you think I was arguing that suburban students are graded unfairly and poor kids aren’t? Your misreading of my article is astounding man. Try finishing it next time.

  5. wellbasically says:

    Just because my kids had a spotty education I’m not going to advocate that kids in rich suburbs get some of our blockheaded policies. That’s the difference between you and me.

  6. Anna says:

    This is absolutely true! I taught at an inner city high school – students could and did fail – failure rate of 20% was acceptable.
    Now, I’m teaching in an affluent district and NOBODY fails. Even the laziest, most unmotivated student (with uninterested parents) gets a 70. If their parents fuss, then administration will apply heavy pressure and teachers are told to do ‘whatever it takes’ to make sure the student passes. Here passes means B or higher. The grades that students earned in my previous school were real, these are not. I’m very disappointed in the inequalities in the system.

  7. This article provides such great insight about the relationship between socioeconomic conditions and environments including (access, parent involvement, et al) and the grading scale. As an educator myself, I understand the critical influence that parent involvement and/or advocacy has on the measurement of performance. Unfortunately, factors outside of the classroom are rarely taking into consideration when associating a letter grade to a child’s performance. I appreciate you highlighting this incongruence and hope that more is done in the future to equalize success factors so that all children are provided with the foundational components that are necessary to achieve at their highest potential.

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