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.