Excellence. It’s a thing. And to sort out who is excellent requires competition in various tests with measurable outcomes.
Competition sadly exposes failure. But it also steers everyone to the most fitting role for them. I competed and failed at being a baseball player, soccer player and tennis player before I finally found a useful skill that I could master well enough to derive a living from it. (Polka dancing.)
If we didn’t allow competition to determine who gets the plums in life, and simply randomly assigned everyone a place in society, Steph Curry might be a guy who makes sandwiches at Pret a Manger, and Mark Zuckerberg might be driving your Uber.
The distribution of ability may be unfair, but competition is merely how we learn the truth about those abilities. We manage to live pretty comfortably with the result, which is everyone doing what the market will best reward them for doing.
The New York City Department of Education hates competition for two reasons: One, the teacher mafia is a gang of ultra-woke progressives who bemoan the visible inequality that results from the invisible inequality that is the distribution of intelligence and skill. Two: competition exposes how bad the schools are at their jobs. This year especially, the teachers are terrified of any mechanism that might quantify just how badly they flunked in the last year and a half.
Solution: do away with honor rolls and other competition-based stamps of excellence.
“Recognizing student excellence via honor rolls and class rank can be detrimental to learners who find it more difficult to reach academic success, often for reasons beyond their control,” states the new grading guidance being sent around to DOE schools.
To bubble-wrap the feelings of those who don’t make honor roll, do away with the honor roll? Honor rolls and other kinds of awards are motivators that drive people to succeed.
At my daughter’s DOE-free charter school, Success Academy, not only are there honor rolls but, recognizing that kids have a hard time training their gazes on the future, the system has ingeniously expanded and moved forward the status-symbol incentives so that they’re right there in every classroom, every day. Little kids who do a great thing in the very early grades are praised and awarded paper crowns saying things like, “Math queen” or “Spelling star.” Kids wear them proudly all day and are still wearing them as they exit at the end of the day.
Signifiers of excellence, even ones that cost nothing, help push everybody to strive. Every child can dream of wearing one of those paper crowns and having a fuss made over her.
Kids — particularly those from underprivileged families who may be short of positive reinforcement in their home lives — need more incentives, not fewer. Last year 100 percent of Success Academy’s high school class (129 students) were accepted to college, two-thirds of them to selective college. Systemwide, the charter school’s student body is 94 percent people of color and 74 percent are from low-income households. Since they’re determined to do everything the opposite of Success Academy, the DOE schools should probably rebrand themselves Failure Academy.
Without motivators, kids who are already stuck in a lethargic DOE where the best teachers get dragged down by the bad ones will find it even more difficult to focus. Why do homework or pay attention in class if there is no apparent reward for anything except possibly in some unimaginably distant future?
Erasing signifiers of excellence is an invitation to sloth and mediocrity. After 13 years of this, 18 year-olds who have spent their lives having their feelings protected will be bounced out into a world where competition is suddenly how everything gets allocated, and they’ll be as helpless as newborn chicks set loose in a forest of foxes.
The DOE’s unofficial new motto is what Judge Smails told his teen caddy, Danny, when he said he couldn’t afford college in “Caddyshack”: “Well, the world needs ditch diggers too.”
Originally published at https://nypost.com/2021/09/01/by-getting-rid-of-grades-and-honor-rolls-the-doe-will-hurt-kids/ on .