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When Students Run the Classroom

A new policy at one of the largest school districts in the U.S. is the stuff kids' dreams are made of.

by
Aaron Hanscom

Bio

September 10, 2008 - 12:28 am
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Here’s an easy question: What would happen if children were allowed to come up with their own grading rules?

Common sense — not an immediate recollection of the plot of Lord of the Flies — is all one needs to possess in order to know that rudderless kids just might come up with a system that puts immediate gratification before, say, scholarship. It’s not unlikely, for example, that 20 5th graders  could put aside their feuds to  agree on the following:

  • Homework grades should be given only when the grades will “raise a student’s average, not lower it.”
  • Students who flunk tests can retake the exam and keep the higher grade.
  • Teachers cannot give a zero on an assignment unless they call parents and make “efforts to assist students in completing the work.”
  • Teachers must accept overdue assignments.
  • High school teachers who fail more than 20 percent of their students will need to develop a professional improvement plan and will be monitored by their principals.

Thank goodness grownups are in charge of our schools, right? Before you breathe a sigh of  relief, I should point out that these five commandments weren’t written by angry 10 year olds during detention.  They come to us courtesy of the Dallas Independent School District (DISD), the twelfth largest school district in the country.

The Dallas Morning News reports that the rules are the latest step by DISD to standardize instruction across the district. Slacker kids in Dallas already had it pretty good thanks to a policy that prevents students from getting a grade lower than a 50 for any one grading period. Trustees reaffirmed that rule last year for this reason: students who fall below 50 have no motivation to bring up their grades.

The obvious fact that the new “get out of jail free” policies offer an incentive for children to do poorly in school (the opportunity cost of playing video games goes down as homework becomes optional) seems to have escaped those entrusted with the education of Dallas students. If there’s one thing I learned during my seven years as a teacher in South Los Angeles, it’s that kids aren’t dumb — especially when it comes to taking advantage of grown-ups. From the article: “One student thought that some students would exploit the rules knowing that doing so would come with light or no penalties.” A high school senior, also able to put two and two together, said, “This seems to teach procrastination.” You don’t say!

Unfortunately, American students seem to have already mastered the art of procrastination.

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