Carpe Diem

Dumbing down education: France wants to end homework and Maryland county ends letter grades and honor rolls

1. Washington Post — French President François Hollande has said he will end homework as part of a series of reforms to overhaul the country’s education system.  Reason? He doesn’t think it is fair that some kids get help from their parents at home while children who come from disadvantaged families don’t. It’s an issue that goes well beyond France, and has been part of the reason that some Americans oppose homework too.

2. Maryland Community News — “Elementary students’ honor roll status will soon be a thing of the past in Montgomery County (MD).  Reason? Students will no longer see A, B, C, D or E, but rather ES for exceptional, P for proficient, I for in-progress, N for not-yet making progress or making minimal progress, or M for missing data. There will be no more traditional honor roll at schools.”

“The new grades do not correlate with the traditional grades — they will not be based on percentages, and they are more focused on seeing that kids understand and can conceptualize material, rather than if they can answer test questions correctly.”

“There will no longer be a space for teachers to provide comments on student progress — something that parents fought for when the school system was testing the new report cards in schools.”

70 thoughts on “Dumbing down education: France wants to end homework and Maryland county ends letter grades and honor rolls

    • Do you happen to know if China and India graduate more as a percentage of the population? I kind of doubt. I would expect them to graduate more in absolute terms because between them, they account for over 2 billion people.

      I really don’t understand the obsession with STEM degrees. I hire people wit STEM degrees pretty cheaply.

  1. Help with homework unfair? The “Handicapper General” is alive and well.

    Perhaps a better solution would be to assign in-home tutors to those students who need help with homework but don’t get it from parents – at taxpayer expense of course. Otherwise K-12 may become K-18 so as to produce equal outcomes.

    /sarc

  2. “There will no longer be a space for teachers to provide comments on student progress — something that parents fought for when the school system was testing the new report cards in schools.”

    I guess that answers the question of who the customers are, and it’s certainly not the parents.

    How would this issue be resolved in a market based school system? Would the parents get comments if they wanted them?

  3. Hollande is such an idiot.

    Not that I think the president of a country should dictate how children should be educated, but homework has become more controversial. People have been questioning whether daily homework is a source of learning for students or merely another source of exhaustion. We don’t have homework in college, for instance, but we still learn a lot.

    • It’s possible that daily homework helps make up for the learning time lost each day that is spent on political indoctrination.

      I recall homework ( vaguely) being additional and supplemental work a student could use to reinforce what was learned in class.

      • I don’t remember indoctrination taking up that much time in my American high school. I do remember that teachers felt compelled to give daily homework that was basically just another chore to plow through. When slogging through homework is just drudgery, there isn’t much learning going on. The mind needs time to absorb and mull over new material. Slogging through daily make-work doesn’t allow it to do that. Maybe it’s time to rethink how and how much homework is assigned.

    • “We don’t have homework in college, for instance, but we still learn a lot.” (????)
      WHERE did you go to college? It can’t have been anywhere like where I did! Or are you distinguishing between homework as make-work, and studying (including problem-solving sets)? If the latter, what you are criticizing is not homework per se, it is stupid assignments.

      • Andrew, you’re right, I’m distinguishing between real work the make-work homework and I should have been clearer. I certainly did do A LOT of work outside the classroom in college, but I didn’t consider it “homework” because the character of the work changed so much. In college, any work outside of class was just a part of the learning experience. You’re undoubtedly correct that busywork homework is down to horrible teachers – a type of teacher promoted by the American public school system at the expense of good teachers.

        Also, there’s a difference between the old Soviet school system and the American school system. In the American school system, parents lobby for their kids’ grades and excuse far too much bad behaviour. I was shocked. When I very briefly taught basic high school algebra, the night before my final one of my students stole a car, got arrested and spent most of the night in jail. His parents (an economist and the head of elementary education for the school system) thought he deserved to take a make-up exam (not an option I gave for the FINAL unless you were dying in the hospital – not stealing cars). Even with the extra time the SOB still only managed a D – and he was capable of doing the work. A large percentage of the parents in the U.S. are just way too permissive.

        • I have students who oversleep for my 4 p.m class, admit it without shame, and want extra consideration for missing class (and, no, they don’t work third shift) :)

  4. The well established difference between successful students and unsuccessful students is NOT tax expenditure per student per year but instead Parent Involvement. The fools in Montgomery County are aiming to achieve equal outcomes by preventing good parents from acting as all parents should. The solution, of course, is to identify the parents of failing students and demand that those parents become more involved.

    But then “education” in America is about making Education Professionals happy with their jobs and pay and has no practical connection with any measurement of students’ ability to demonstrate that they have learned anything while being educated.

    Here in the 21st Century, modern businesses use automation and statistica process control to increase the quality of the products while reducing cost. By contrast, Education Professionals keep insisting that they are involved in a craft, and that each craftsperson must be allow to work at their craft as they see fit, regardless of whether their products are functional and of value to the community.

    • Vince, do you seriously think that you can successfully force parents to care if they don’t already? I don’t think there’s a solution for that. Either the kids of neglectful parents will be self-motivated (I’ve seen that) or they won’t be and they’ll deal with the consequences.

      And you’re right, the education profession is about the educators, not the students. No offense to the exceptional teachers I’ve had in my life, some of whom I can quote decades later and from whom I’ve learned valuable lessons.

  5. If it’s all in the name of leveling the playing field; then what’s next?; if a one-legged kid hops into class – cut one leg off all the other students?

    I think we all know life isn’t fair sometimes…that’s why there’s alcohol.

  6. China’s education system may be worse than India’s:

    A College Education Without Job Prospects
    November 30, 2006

    “The job market for Indian college graduates is split sharply in two. With a robust handshake, a placeless accent and a confident walk, you can get a $300-a-month job with Citibank or Microsoft.

    With a limp handshake and a thick accent, you might peddle credit cards door to door for $2 a day.

    But the chance to learn such skills is still a prerogative reserved, for the most part, for the modern equivalent of India’s upper castes — the few thousand students who graduate each year from academies like the Indian Institutes of Management and the Indian Institutes of Technology.

    Their alumni, mostly engineers, walk the hallways of Wall Street and Silicon Valley and are stewards for some of the largest companies.

    In the shadow of those marquee institutions, most of the 11 million students in India’s 18,000 colleges and universities receive starkly inferior training, heavy on obedience and light on useful job skills.

    But as graduates complain about a lack of jobs, companies across India see a lack of skilled applicants. The contradiction is explained, experts say, by the poor quality of undergraduate education.

    Teaching emphasizes silent note-taking and discipline at the expense of analysis and debate.

    “Out! Out! Close the door! Close the door!” a management professor barked at a student who entered his classroom at Hinduja two minutes late.

    Soon after his departure, the door cracked open again, and the student asked if he could at least take his bag.

    The reply: “Out! Out! Who said you could stand here?” A second student, caught whispering, was asked to stand up and cease taking notes.

    “When we are raising our children,” said Sam Pitroda, a Chicago-based entrepreneur who is chairman of the Knowledge Commission and was an adviser to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s, “we constantly tell them: ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that. Stand here, stand there.’

    It creates a feeling that if there is a boundary, you don’t cross it. You create boxes around people when we need people thinking outside the box.””

  7. Homework: There is repetitive idiot work to make parents and teachers think their kids are doing something, and there are serious assignments, which complement the relatively limited number of hours in the classroom. If a book is assigned to be read, it should be read outside the classroom, and discussed in its totality, after it has been read (or a major portion has been read.) Some assignments are unnecessary. Essays are never unnecessary. A certain amount of repetition is necessary for foreign languages, and for all too many kids, grammatical English is a “foreign” language. Math assignments can be needlessly repetitive, but this depends partly upon the ability of the student: almost all students will need some additional problems to be done at home, or the class is moving too slowly. The same goes for science problems. Most high school (and younger) students have no idea how to study. Just sending them home and telling them to study chapters six through nine for Tuesday’s test is an invitation to disaster. The assignment has to be structured. This is how kids learn to structure their own time. In college, the rule I always learned was that the student should be prepared to spend at least two hours working outside of class for each hour in class (more in some demanding subjects or if the subject is uncongenial for them). More time is wasted during the high school day, the student population is less mature, generally less motivated, and may includes a significant number of students who are less academically inclined. Between thirty minutes and an hour for each academic class hour is probably sufficient. That would be between eight and twenty hours a week, but probably unevenly spaced through the term. (Twenty would probably be for a very serious student pursuing a rigorous program.)

    But how anyone can call homework unnecessary is beyond me. It is possible that what is being assigned is a waste of time, but that is the fault of the teacher, not the system. Students need to learn, and there really aren’t very many years in which to do it. Getting in to a good college is no joke for those who are serious about pursuing a professional or highly technical career, and doing well once you are there requires good study habits: if you already have them when you start, you are miles ahead. All of this is necessary in order to keep a job once you start working: whether the work requires brainpower or not, the employees-to-be must have learned that they are to do what they are asked to do, and have completed it by the time they are told to. If it isn’t done when the work day ends, and they have the opportunity to finish the job on their own time, they should. Homework prepares one for that, and even silly grunt work helps a little. (Good assignments are better, of course.)

    I don’t know how obsessively egalitarian the parents are in Montgomery County, Maryland, so I can’t judge whether there will be an outcry against this absurd proposal or not (imagine paying somebody on your own payroll for doing an unsatisfactory job because you had the impression that he or she was trying hard!) but I know how well this will go over in France: like a solid lead balloon. France is a meritocracy. It has been so for 350 years, since Colbert and Louis XIV decided to destroy the power of the aristocracy by creating an administration of bureaucrats screened from among the commoners. The Revolution enlarged the base which was eligible to compete. The competition is fierce. Parents drive their children incessantly, because they know this is the only opportunity the kids will have to maintain middle-class status, let alone to rise into the ranks of the managerial elite or the entrepreneurial class. Even the children of the élite have to bust their chops to stand a chance to maintain the status of their parents. Most French écoliers would laugh at the notion they could get by with as little as twenty hours of homework a week (and the school day is almost three hours longer than ours.) Kids take special extra cramming courses to prepare for major exams, such as the all-essential baccaulauréat, and the entrance examinations to each of the grandes écoles. Hollande is an idiot if he thinks he can change this by decree, by an Act of the National Assembly, or even with the intervention of the police and the gendarmerie. His own party is almost entirely composed of elitist meritocrats. He stands a better chance of collecting his 70% tax on the well-to-do, (and given the French genius for exporting money to Switzerland or Belgium in periods of Socialist fervor, or just hiding it under the mattress, I expect that the revenue he collects from that will be measured in the thousands, rather than tens or hundreds of millions of euros.) It is a proposal made to sound good for the handful of radical blowhards on his own left, and will probably never even be promulgated. In any case, if the teachers don’t assign homework, most kids’ parents will.

    • Andrew, I don’t think all homework is worthless. However, there’s quite a lot of that repetitive idiot work that just sucks time away from real learning. And the article efim linked to where the kids had to make three-dimensional periodic tables because it’s “creative” and “fun”? Um…no. There might be creative ways to learn periodic tables – particularly for kids who have trouble with rote – but wracking their brains trying to figure out creative ways to make the table 3-D isn’t it.

      • Oh, agreed! There are a lot of “creative” (i.e., poorly thought-out, or just plain dumb) assignments. That’s the fault of lousy teachers. Good ones should know what to assign, especially if the local administration doesn’t tell them their job is to entertain kids, rather than to teach the subject matter.

  8. If I didn’t pay for a Ph.D Math tutor, in a competitive grad econ program (where most students were failing well into the program, transferred to easier programs, quit, unable to finish in time, etc.), it’s questionable I would’ve graduated (although, I received all “A’s” in undergrad math).

    • I recall my first grad econ class. The instructor wrote the most detailed equation I ever saw, using all four chalkboards, and towards the end had to write smaller and smaller to finish it.

          • I understand, Peak. You really need the flexibility of a general equilibrium model to pile on the bullshit so that you can ignore mountains of empirical evidence. And logic. When you pile the bullshit to the eyeballs, bullshit is all you see and shit becomes your new reality. This was an obvious draw-back for central planners, but it’s good to see you won’t let such a tiny flaw slow your roll!

            And, yes, obviously Mike is my husband because only a husband could ever agree with me. In fact, Morganovich, Paul and Ron H. are probably my husbands too and for the same reason. Good thinking. Party in the harem tonight!

          • I guess, some people get upset when a limited model doesn’t work. I stated before:

            A rise in the minimum wage can increase real economic growth.

            The higher wage attracts better workers, with higher reservation wages, to increase productivity.

            Minimum wage workers have high marginal propensities to consume. So, a higher minimum wage increases consumption.

            Only a portion of the higher minimum wage may be passed along in higher prices, because portions will be absorbed by “excess” wages of other workers and “excess” profits.

            Weak or poorly managed firms will lose business or fail. However, stronger or better managed firms will gain their business, and also gain from the increased demand.

          • Oh, Peak….what a knot of simplistic Keynesian confusion you are.

            A reservation wage? Ya’ mean their opportunity cost? Dude, if their opportunity cost is higher than the wage offered, then they’ll go do something else. You’re the only one who is hung up on this. But what about the guy whose labour isn’t worth the minimum wage? You artificially price him out of the labour market. What does your model that refutes downward sloping demand curves say about him? It says f*** that guy. Your overly pretentious general equilibrium models deal only with aggregates of undifferentiated cogs. Individual welfare is of tertiary importance if it is of any importance at all.

            Even if I were foolish enough to wring my hands over under-consumption Lord Keynes style, minimum wage doesn’t increase demand by increasing MPC. To do that, the minimum wage would have to increase the earnings of people whose market wage is below the minimum wage. Even you seem to almost understand that this isn’t happening because the only people who will earn the new higher wage are people with more skills who would have earned that wage without your central planning attempts because it is coincidentally the market value of their labour.

          • Methinks, we’ve gone over this before. You don’t believe in neither labor standards nor a subsistence wage.

            Why waste money on safety cords for workers cleaning windows of skyscrapers?

            And if you should go to work riding a 10-speed bicycle, with no teeth, wearing Salvation Army clothes, we’ll, that’s tough, unless your parents or government subsidize you.

          • Why waste money on safety cords for workers cleaning windows of skyscrapers?

            Peak, We’ve been over this before. It costs 3 days to train a window washer with no prior experience, during which time their output is zero. A safety cord, at a fraction of that cost, is an excellent way for an employer to protect their investment in training, not to mention avoiding the expense of a messy cleanup after a worker falls from a great height.

            “And if you should go to work riding a 10-speed bicycle, with no teeth, wearing Salvation Army clothes, we’ll, that’s tough, unless your parents or government subsidize you.”

            A 10 speed? Who can afford a 10 speed?

            Actually it’s even tougher if your parents or government subsidize you, as that means you are blowing the subsidy on something other than work related expenses.

          • Ron, economic conditions aren’t always the same.

            With abundant labor, an employer may not have to invest much on employees, which is supported by history and countries with little or no labor standards.

            Moreover, in a competitive market, firms tend to maximize profit, including through labor costs.

            I also stated before, it’s not expensive to clean up “after a worker falls from a great height” when there’s abundant labor with no labor standards, including no minimum wage.

            So, you believe, it’s tougher for workers when parents or government help pay for their housing, for example, than workers who are forced to sleep in a car or share housing with other workers.

          • Also, I may add, Methinks new job:

            The hidden downside of Santa’s little helpers
            The Irish Times
            December 21, 2002

            “An investigation into the price of a Mattel Barbie doll, half of which is made in China, found that of the $10 retail price, $8 goes to transportation, marketing, retailing, wholesale and profit for Mattel.

            Of the remaining $2, $1 is shared by the management and transportation in Hong Kong, and 65 cents is shared by the raw materials from Taiwan, Japan, the US and Saudi Arabia.

            The remaining 35 cents is earned by producers in China for providing factory sites, labour and electricity.

            Toy factories hire the least-skilled workers…Sixty per cent are young women between 17 and 23 years old who live cramped in company dormitories, 15 to a room, earning just 30 cents an hour and often inhaling spray paints, glue fumes and toxic dust.”

          • Sorry, Peak. I’m an unusual woman in that I don’t respond to emotional arguments devoid of logic and based on economic ignorance. I’m profoundly saddened that those are, with rare exception, the only arguments you respond to. You once wrote a short and excellent response to explain why inflation can’t possible be as high as some claimed and then you immediately devolved into this kind of illogical nonsense. I’m disappointed in you.

          • Peak:

            With abundant labor, an employer may not have to invest much on employees, which is supported by history and countries with little or no labor standards.

            Abundant labor is meaningless unless some of those available workers already have the required skills. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of zombies push against the perimeter fence, unless they already have high-rise window washing skills, they will need to be trained. If the safety strap costs less than training, it will be used to preserve the investment in training.

            There is also the cost of replacing equipment and supplies that might be lost when a worker falls to his death.

            I don’t think you can make a blanket statement like you did.

            Moreover, in a competitive market, firms tend to maximize profit, including through labor costs.

            All firms tend to maximize profit for the owners at all times. That is their purpose.

            In a competitive market, which means all markets not distorted by government interference, total profit may be maximized through increasing market share by reducing profit per unit produced.

            In any case, profit is maximized by protecting investments in training.

            I also stated before, it’s not expensive to clean up “after a worker falls from a great height” when there’s abundant labor with no labor standards, including no minimum wage.

            No matter what the cost of cleanup, it is a preventable with a safety strap.

            So, you believe, it’s tougher for workers when parents or government help pay for their housing, for example, than workers who are forced to sleep in a car or share housing with other workers.

            “Tougher” was the wrong choice of words. I believe that when workers are subsidized by parents or government, the arguments for a minimum wage to are out the window.

            A teenager who lives with his middle class parents doesn’t need a minimum wage to support himself, and can maintain a dignified existence on a market wage, especially considering that part of what he is paid is in the form of learning marketable skills.

          • Peak

            Ditto what Methinks said, except I’m not an unusual woman.

            The hidden downside of Santa’s little helpers
            The Irish Times…

            …blah, blah, blah…heart-rending story…

            Toy factories hire the least-skilled workers…Sixty per cent are young women between 17 and 23 years old who live cramped in company dormitories, 15 to a room, earning just 30 cents an hour and often inhaling spray paints, glue fumes and toxic dust.”

            Just think of how much worse these young women’s lives must have been before they went to work for the factories!

            What would you recommend, that we refuse to buy Barbies so they will all lose their jobs and return to lives that are worse than the one the Irish Times described in 2002?

            Of course you are free to pay more for Barbies if you think it will help. Perhaps you could start a “Save the Chinese Women Workers” campaign.

            In reality, the best way to help those poor unfortunates is to buy lots of the stuff they make.

          • Ron says: “Just think of how much worse these young women’s lives must have been before they went to work for the factories!”

            Many of them quit after being exploited.

            Nonetheless, if you can get away with slavery, why not?

          • Peak: “Many of them quit after being exploited.

            Nonetheless, if you can get away with slavery, why not?”

            Is this meant to be moronic?

            Slaves can’t quit and if the women can quit, a.) they don’t need you and your meddling and b.) they are by definition not slaves.

            You need to learn some elementary economics and logic.

  9. From the article on Montgomery County Public Schools:

    “Curriculum 2.0 focuses more on what Superintendent Joshua P. Starr calls 21st century skills, such as critical thinking. The report card is made to match, noting progress not just on subjects, behavior and effort, but also on more complex concepts such as analysis, elaboration, intellectual risk-taking and <A HREF=metacognition.”

    The vagaries of going “meta” and intellectual risk taking, in lieu of proficiency of knowledge and resultant letter grades, will have one positive impact. Grade inlfation will cease to be a concern in the district.

    I suggest a bumper sticker for parents in Montgomery county that reads my student is an exceptional meta learner.

  10. Not getting letter grades in elementary school such as they are doing in Maryland is not new at all. I found some of my old report cards from the early 1960s. We were only rated satisfactory and unsatisfactory in math, science, art, and spelling/reading: no letter grades. Luckily, I don’t know what it took to actually be held back a grade in elementary school.

    We just changed the requirement for some college programs yesterday to a “C” or better in each course to graduate. So, in essence, it they are now pass or fail.

    A discussion here in an earlier post found bringing the bottom four quintiles of students’ math and reading scores into the top quintile in 6 years while also increasing all of those in the bottom of the top quintile to 100% in Florida very desirable. I seemed to be the only who found that goal unachievable and unrealistic in that timeframe while others considered it to be a racial double standard (I didn’t really care who was in the bottom quintiles). That lofty goal would be pass or fail, too, because you can’t keep letter grades if everyone is at 100%.

    • There are also no places on my old report cards for teacher comments (I now wish there were, and then again, maybe not). Parents were expected to meet with the students’ teachers at parent/teacher conferences for that. Maybe it’s time for a return to that interaction.

      • Teachers are not interested in what parents think or say at parent/teacher conferences. When it comes to teaching the teachers think they have all the answers and the parents just get in the way with their old fashioned ideas. (like importance of homework)

    • Hydra says: “After physical inorganic chemistry, graduate econ was a snap.”

      I heard theoretical physics was the hardest field, which seems similar to grad econ, e.g. using math, including the same math physicist use, to deal with (hundreds of major) invisible forces, including their interrelationships and interactions.

      My Ph.D math tutor asked me more questions about economic concepts, models, terminology, etc. than I asked him about math.

      Without prior knowledge of economics, one page of a grad econ book could be expanded to well over 100 pages when the explanations, definitions, and intermediate math are included.

      “Theoretical physics is a branch of physics which employs mathematical models and abstractions of physics to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena.

      The advancement of science depends in general on the interplay between experimental studies and theory. In some cases, theoretical physics adheres to standards of mathematical rigor while giving little weight to experiments and observations.

      For example, while developing special relativity, Albert Einstein was concerned with the Lorentz transformation which left Maxwell’s equations invariant, but was apparently uninterested in the Michelson-Morley experiment on Earth’s drift through a luminiferous ether.”

  11. Not to be too rude, but what does most of this dialogue have to do with the original topic of homework and grades? Or is that just an excuse to continue an argument begun somewhere else? Much of this thread is utterly irrelevant to the topic!!!

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