In Garrison Keillor’s radio narratives, Lake Wobegone is the fictitious place where “all children are above average.” In education, we now speak of the “Lake Wobegone Effect”—a combination of grade inflation and less content—and it's driving down the value of high school diplomas and college degrees.
Both the U.S. and Kansas departments of education recently announced that high school graduation rates increased to over 80 percent. True...but I would take that with a grain of salt.
K-12 teachers regularly feed me information about their own classroom situations. And the news from some is alarming.
Here is how one, solid, science teacher described her situation. She assigns homework and expects students to come prepared for classwork and labs. But one student never did his homework. When school administrators saw that this student was failing, that student was pulled from class the last week of the semester and put on a programmed learning computer. That is where the student reads a paragraph and then selects answers on the computer—over and over again—until he gets the question right. Thus, a failing student who was unlikely to graduate high school became a “good” student ready for college!
How widespread is this? It's hard to know for certain. But similar "end runs” have been happening in a variety of ways across Kansas. Not at all schools. Not even at a majority of schools. But the practice of overriding or coercing teachers’ grades appears to be growing.
Now, switch to our higher education institutions. Unfortunately, public universities now operate under the same pressures faced by teachers in public schools:
Keep them in school.
At college campuses, more faculty feel the pressure to reduce the number of failing students while at the same time being told “don’t let standards drop.” For our growing number of adjunct faculty, our part time hires, there's no need to mention this. They already know that if they give too many Ds and Fs...they won't be hired back.
But many universities are now reducing the credit hours required to graduate.
Downsizing the general education programs.
Reducing requirements to take those hard math and science course.
Advising students to take the easiest courses first.
ACT scores show that less than one-third of high school seniors are ready for college. And yet, our colleges are being asked to turn out twice this many graduates. That kind of math doesn't add up.
In 1969, 25 percent of college students had grades of C or less. It's now just 7 percent.
In 1969, five percent had grades of A- or higher. Today, it is a whopping 41 percent!.
The directive to increase retention and graduation rates comes straight from our President, our governors, and the higher education governing bodies in state capitols across America.
Today, a university president’s job depends on growth at all costs.
Public school teachers and college faculty have a responsibility to our good students to resist the pressure to water down the curriculum and drop our grading scales. Good students want a degree that means something. The student who walks across the stage at graduation to receive that diploma or degree they truly earned, should not be followed by students who did not and cannot do the work.