Society and Culture, Education

Is rewarding straight-A students a problem?

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

A Maryland middle school has sparked heated controversy by holding an end-of-day pizza party for high-performing students. As Donna St. George reported in yesterday’s Washington Post, Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring only invited straight-A students to the final period celebration, while allowing B and C students to join after school. Students with less than a C average (306 of Eastern’s 865 students) weren’t invited at all. Some parents and education professors complained bitterly, with one Mount St. Mary’s professor denouncing the school for “creating a caste system.”

I’m not unsympathetic to the concerns, especially when students with special needs, for instance, may have a tougher time earning an invite. Educators must always strive to strike a healthy balance between encouraging hard work and rewarding merit, on the one hand, and creating an environment that embraces and supports all their kids, on the other. If the school was routinely holding exclusionary events or assigning cafeteria seating based on grades, I’d think they’d probably have gone too far.

That said, c’mon! We now live in a society where the scales have been decidedly tipped away from encouraging hard work and towards making kids feel okay. Kids play on soccer and basketball teams where every child gets a trophy, just because. Playground games like dodgeball have been discouraged because they create winners and losers. Schools of education work assiduously to teach aspiring educators that everyone is a victim. Teachers are hesitant to demand too much, punish too firmly, or be too blunt in criticizing unacceptable behavior, for fear parents or lawyers will make their lives miserable.  Heck, the US Department of Justice is doing everything it can to defang discipline policies that ensnare misbehaving students. And students who study hard can face ridicule and ostracism from their peers.

The result is that too many kids attend schools and live in an orbit where excellence and hard work are exceptional and uncool.  Educators are to be commended when they work to change that state of affairs. Now, a balance has to be struck. But we should respect and encourage those educators who step up and seek creative ways to recognize and reward hard work. In this day and age, the presumption should be that more of that is generally good. And we certainly shouldn’t be second-guessing and giving grief to educators trying to make tough but reasonable judgment calls.

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9 thoughts on “Is rewarding straight-A students a problem?

  1. Teachers are paid to help every student to learn, and to assure that each student is happy. Grades tell a lot about the grader, but do not say much about the person being graded. Happiness is just as important as a good grade.

    Is it really important that the child can throw a ball through a hoop or if the child knows that it was the year 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue? Most of the information is wrong anyway. We know today that most of the science believed in the 1950s was incorrect, and the child is not going to be a professional basketball player unless he is seven feet tall.

    Dedicated teachers always worry if they are teaching information that will be useful to the child’s future. Additionally, only what the child knows at the end of the course is important, not what the child did not know earlier. Are you a failure because you made a low grade in sandbox forty yeats ago, or because a teacher didn’t like you?

    How the former student did on tests had little bearing on what that person did in latter life. Some teachers have great effect on a particular student throughout life, for good or harm, others had much less effect.

    • Basically you are saying that ignorance and failure should be rewarded as much as success?

      And, btw, high school grades are considered one of the best indicators of college success. And college success is a pretty good indicator of career success. So your entire premise is based on… Well, your own ignorance. Might want to try not rewarding ignorance.

    • So grades are insignificant and learning facts such as 1492 insignificant. Success on a test has no bearing on later life. Great! Good to know. Let’s stop wasting trillions of dollars on the public school system and give that money back to the taxpayers. Parents who worry about self-esteem can let their kids spend their days feeling good about themselves. Parents who value learning will be able to provide their child with a more useful education if freed from union controlled schools. I agree great plan.

    • as someone currently in this stupid thing you’re attempting to call the United States’ public education system, i can vouch that people are definitely making an effort to make sure kids are happy. And it’s making things infinitely worse.

      My peers have no respect for their teachers because they know their “happiness” is protected. The worse they can do is expel you, and for a lot of these kids that’s exactly what they want.

      I think my math teacher put it best. She said that, “Yes, the stuff you’re learning in this Algebra II class will probably not ever be used after high school unless you’re an engineer or have another profession in the sciences. But this isn’t just about just learning the math. it’s about learning to learn. School is about learning how to function in society by learning deadlines, and how to cooperate with others. This knowledge is a great thing, but it’s more about being able to learn it than actually knowing it.”

      This whole obsession with the “happiness” of a child is raising a generation of spoiled selfish brats who have almost no work ethic, and feel entitled to the world. And you can’t say I don’t know, because I have to listen to them complain about having to go to school every day in the first place, and hear them whine about their teacher only giving them bad grades on multiple choice tests because they don’t like them.

  2. Anybody heard of INSPIRATION? Yeah, in this day and age (of communism where everybody is an equal robot) it’s not nice to stand out. But in the OLD DAYS, people who did well were given attention to INSPIRE others to try to do the same.
    Sad how times are changed. Sure, everybody gets a “participation” ribbon and nobody gets a medal for WINNING!

  3. Smart people like Hess should be able to remember that doing well in school, studying, exercising your curiosity beyond the mundane boundaries of most school curricula, is its own reward. Smart kids generally need less motivation than mediocre or dumb kids, because they are having fun doing what they are doing. I don’t know about you, but I remember avidly looking forward to the beginning of school as the summer waned, and my parents were public school teachers, and that meant that the beginning of the school year meant the most stressful and energy-consuming time for my parents was also coming up, which is rarely good for the kids, so I had reasons NOT to look forward to school. But school was where victories came and things were accomplished; where you had a chance to hone your thinking against teachers and books and concepts and fellow smart students who thought differently than you. All that is eminently satisfying, but there was also the secure knowledge that you weren’t seeking status by the small-minded measures of jocks, cheerleaders, those who judged by wealth, class, or appearance. Smarts are democratic, and meritocracy is its own reward. Schools absolutely should not be discouraged from rewarding the academically successful; that is an affirmation of their essential mission. But don’t forget that smart kids don’t crave that recognition the same way as football players crave championships and adulation – and that’s something you DON’T want to change.

  4. There is a major problem with being one of the “smart kids” in school, and most of us would have shunned anything that would have outwardly shown our classmates that we were any better academically than they were.

    By the time I was in junior high, it was getting pretty unbearable, being “hated”, ostracized, and physically attacked for “blowing the curve” and doing well in classes, so when moving up to high school I intentionally aimed for no more than an A- or B+ on tests and in classes as protective camouflage. The only place I actually put in any effort was on tests where the scores WOULD NOT be made public. (Five of my classmates won the National Merit Scholarship that year, the most ever in that school system, completely surprising the school administrators because most of us had learned to keep a low profile…)

    It’s not that the smart kids wouldn’t have liked some recognition, but rather that we feared the very real and often painful consequences.

    This is a problem that you have to overcome when trying to provide some incentive to excel in school academically, not the issue of hurting the feeling of those who don’t. Avoiding “pain” is a much greater incentive for a certain group of the supposed “underachievers” than any pizza party.

  5. Compared to the attention lavished on athletes in our schools, the pittance given to academic achievers is almost laughable, considering the stated purpose of a school. High-school athletes are highlighted weekly, if not daily, in media everywhere. Children who win academic contests get a paragraph or two in the back of a local newspaper — that is, if the parent turns in the information.

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