Why Students Feel Entitled to Grades they Haven’t Earned

by Christopher Paslay

Social justice is fueling our student’s entitlement mentality.

It’s the middle of November–report card time.  Students are now going through the ritual of approaching their teachers and asking if there is anything they can do for extra credit to get their grade where they want it to be.  My stock answer to this question is, Yes, and you can start by doing the classwork that is due today.

On a rare occasion, a student who is up to date with all his work and is looking for that extra assignment to give him that extra edge will request additional work, and it is then and only then that I agree to give extra credit.

It’s interesting how today’s youth feel entitled to certain grades, regardless of whether or not they have earned them.  I’ve been privileged over the past 16 years to teach a wonderful and motivated group of students, but I’ve also had the other extreme–the slackers and game players who spend the majority of their time trying to work the system; if they spent half as much time doing their work as they do trying to avoid it, they’d all be on the honor roll.

I often wonder where this entitlement mentality comes from.  How in the world do they think they deserve an “A” or “B” when they haven’t completed a third of the work to earn such a grade.  More puzzling still, where do they get the notion that they can make up a semester’s worth of papers, projects, oral reports, journals, etc. with one lousy extra credit assignment?  (The best is when a student misses a week’s worth of classes–96 minutes a pop–and demands all the make-up work . . . ASAP, if you please . . . as if it’s even possible to make up so much lost class time by taking home a text and copying the information from a classmate).

If I had to speculate, however, I would guess this mentality stems at least in part from a concept known as social justice–or put another way, the liberal orthodoxy that places “fairness” over merit, the idea that in the end, everyone must be equal and that it doesn’t matter how we make it that way (the ends justify the means).

The protest over the admission tests given at eight New York City elite high schools is a case in point.  In September, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a federal complaint attempting to lower the admission standards of these schools claiming the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is too difficult and discriminates against black and Latino students.

Another example took place last August, when the SRC eased The Philadelphia School District’s student code of conduct in an effort to keep teachers and administrators from suspending or expelling too many students.

The Most recent (and troubling) example of “fairness” over merit is the new movement to lower the admission standards of charters and other special admit schools.  Operating under the guise of eliminating “significant barriers to entry,” this movement puts a double whammy on Philadelphia’s high achieving students and their families by attacking the applications of exemplary schools such as Green Woods Charter and Eastern University Academy.

Our city’s motivated, academically advanced children and their families are now being swarmed by marxist social justice advocates at both ends: they can’t get an education in their neighborhood schools because civil rights groups are fighting to keep their wayward and unruly peers in classrooms where they rob them of their right to learn; and they can’t distinguish themselves in charters or special admit schools because liberals are fighting to water-down applications and admission tests so the not-so-motivated and/or academically inclined can take up an equal amount of seats.

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to have dawned on such advocates that if a student and his family can’t pass the muster on the application, the chances are they won’t pass the muster on the advanced curriculum; social justice folk operate under the false notion that if you put an average student with average intelligence and motivation into an elite school, he will somehow become elite overnight–presto change-o.

The notion of “justice” under social justice is also interesting.  Social justice for whom, exactly?  The 85 percent of hardworking students who get their educations compromised on a daily basis because the rights of the violent 15 percent are more important?  Is there social justice for the mathematically and linguistically gifted child who gets bumped out of an academically elite school because he wasn’t the right skin color and ruined the quota?  Is it socially just to discount the planning and wherewithal of organized families who have done their homework and research and have completed the rigorous application to the special admit school by accepting someone less qualified via a watered-down application?

But it isn’t the fact that this so called “fairness” is grossly unfair to a whole group of people (ahem . . . educational socialism . . . ahem . . . the ends justify the means), but the most worrisome part is that instead of raising the bar for everyone, instead of calling on the mediocre to raise their expectations, the opposite happens: we set our sites on the lowest common denominator.

Think about.  Lower the admission standards at NYC’s elite schools.  Ease the student code of conduct in Philadelphia public schools.  Water down applications to charter and special admit schools.  Lower, lower, lower; it’s no wonder that showing a photo ID to vote is too daunting a task for people of this mentality.

People who believe in incentivizing success, raising expectations, and living in a society based on merit rather than on grievances and the mantra of victimization (ahem . . . conservatives), would fight to teach these students and their families that with determination, they can overcome any obstacle; what they wouldn’t do is throw in the towel and lower the standards.

It’s the middle of November–report card time.  Time for students to seek out that game changing extra-credit assignment our socialist education system has promised them that they are all entitled to.

Duncan and Obama Remain, but America is Different

by Christopher Paslay

America, and its public schools, have changed.

Despite my bold November 1st proclamation, Arne Duncan remains the U.S. Secretary of Education, and Barack Obama remains president.  Last Tuesday, nearly half of all voters—some 58 million of them—called for change . . . or put another way, called for a return to the values and traditions America was founded upon.

Curiously, “values and traditions” in the 21st century are now a matter of cultural perspective.  No longer are there universal human truths that transcend time and gender and race, but a kind of orthodoxy revolving around a concept of “fairness” that has become known as social justice.  Some 61 million Americans—made-up to a large extent of minorities, agnostics, the young, the single, and those on various government assistant programs—voted for the status quo . . . or put another way, called for a bigger intrusion of government into all of our lives.

Here’s a closer look at the changing trends of America and as a result, public education.

The Institution of Marriage and Family

For the first time in the history of the United States, there are now more single women than married.  Likewise, there are now more single households than married.  One of the great pillars of America—the institution of marriage and family—is now in the minority; in President Obama’s “The Life of Julia,” the interactive website feature that showcases the benefits of various Obama-backed welfare-state programs, the 31-year-old single Julia “decides” to have a baby all by her lonesome–no husband in the equation.  Does this impact education?  You bet.  It impacts everything.  But when it comes to schools, research shows children from single parent families do far worse academically as well as behaviorally than do children from two parent families.

Curiously, the racial achievement gap is proportional to out-of-wedlock births.  On nearly every standardized test, from the NAEP to the GRE—from 3rd grade to graduate school—Asians score the highest, followed by whites, followed by Hispanics, followed by blacks.  Here is the percentage of out-of-wedlock births to women under the age of 30 by racial/ethnic group from 2003 to 2004: Asian 16%; white 34%; Hispanics 46%; blacks 77%.

Institution of Religion

Today, one-fifth (20%) of Americans consider themselves atheists, agnostic, or unaffiliated with a religion.  In fact, in August of 2012, the Democrats removed the word “God” from their party platform.  In a May 2012 speech at the prestigious Roman Catholic Georgetown University, President Obama not only failed to mention Jesus once in his remarks, but also persuaded the school to cover the name of Jesus–IHS–at Gaston Hall where he made the speech; Obama did the same thing in April of 2009 when he delivered remarks on the economy at Georgetown.

What does religion have to do with the quality of public education?  Morals.  Or, the lack thereof.  Crime and violence in schools is on the rise.  In Philadelphia alone, there were over 4,500 violent incidents reported during the 2009-10 school year.  According to the Inquirer, “on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff member were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes.”

Embracing religion doesn’t necessarily mean following a particular deity per se.  It means letting go of ego–the self centered perspective that teaches that man is the end-all-be-all of the universe, that there is no broader consequence for immoral behavior.

 Competition and Individualism

In 2010, for the first time in America, minority births (50.4%) outnumbered whites.  This is significant because the values of the dominant white culture are now viewed as oppressive by progressive education scholars.  According to Vernon G. Zunker, a noted expert on career counseling, “Career choice, for example, may be driven by goals of family as opposed to individual aspirations.  In the individualistic cultures of Europe and North America, great value is placed on individual accomplishment.  In the collectivist cultures of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the individual focuses on the welfare of the group and its collective survival.”

In other words, “individualism” and “competition” are a white thang, and should be discounted in the career and academic world.  Hence, the advent of “group work” as opposed to direct instruction, the notion of “student-centered” lessons as opposed to “teacher-centered” ones, and the great push for schools to lower admission standards to elite schools and AP courses; from this also stems the recent opposition to suspensions and expulsions of public school students–a movement which values the rights of the violent and unruly few over the rights of the hardworking many.

The results of this brand of educational socialism?  Academic mediocrity, and a horrible decline in SAT as well as AP scores.

Thanks to the systematic deconstruction of marriage, religion, and American individualism, Duncan remains, and so does Obama.  It appears Big Government–and a Marxist brand of educational socialism–is on the rise.  But hey, America asked for it.

To quote the classic line from H. L. Mencken: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

To those who asked for it–I’m sure you’ll get it good and hard.

Saying goodbye to Arne Duncan (and shrinking the U.S. Dept. of Ed.)

by Christopher Paslay

Next week we will be getting a new president, and with him, a new Secretary of Education.    

With a new president comes a new cabinet.  And since October 17, 1979, when President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Department of Education Organization Act—which brought into existence the overbearing and bureaucratic United States Department of Education—this has included the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Arne Duncan, President Obama’s appointment, has fit the job perfectly, which is to say he intruded on public education like the big government politician he is.  Now, before education advocates start belly aching about the importance of federally funded education programs, know this: on average, the federal government only contributes about 10 percent to a public school district’s budget (90 percent of funds come from state and local government).

Interestingly, this doesn’t stop the federal government from bullying local school districts into following their laws and policies, like George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind or Barack Obama’s recent “National Reform Model” for overhauling failing schools; the U.S. Dept. of Ed. wants all the power, none of the responsibility, and in exchange covers a measly tenth of the cost.

But back to Duncan.  What has marked his tenure?  Duncan has fought to:

  • Increase the use of data and standardized tests to define student achievement and teacher effectiveness.
  • Use performance pay to compensate teachers based on student performance on standardized tests.
  • End teacher seniority to give principals the autonomy to pick their own staffs.
  • Turn “failing” schools into charters.
  • Overhaul entire staffs of teachers and principals at failing schools.
  • Reduce suspensions and expulsions to deal with unruly and disruptive students.

After four years of such policies, the racial achievement gap is as big as ever, test scores remain flat, graduation rates haven’t moved, and hundreds of millions of dollars went down the toilet via President Obama’s education stimulus package; for those in Philadelphia, think of the three year tenure of Arlene Ackerman, and the nearly $10 billion she spent (stole/wasted).  What does Philadelphia have to show for it?  A gigantic budget deficit.

Which is why a new education secretary is going to be a much-needed breath of fresh air.  The question, of course, is who?  Who will Romney’s education secretary be?

Before that question can be addressed, there is one fact that will make his appointee better off than Duncan: Romney has talked of shrinking the U.S. Dept. of Ed. by combining it with another agency, and this may limit the reach of the education secretary; some speculate that there is still a chance Romney will abolish the Dept. of Ed.—and education secretaries—altogether.

Again, the federal government only contributes about 10 percent to the budgets of public school districts (in Philadelphia it is about 15 percent), so the Dept. of Ed.’s power should be reeled in; it should have a say in only 10-15 percent of public education policy.  But that’s not how big government and big bureaucracies operate.  They want control at all costs, and maneuver their way in via handouts (Race to the Top) and by making false promises; better to give federal education funds directly to the states, and let local districts, school boards, parents and teachers make their own decisions.

It’s interesting more public educators aren’t more agitated by the U.S. Dept. of Ed., by its intruding reach into their classrooms, by its regulations and red tape, by its out-of-touch policies and visions for reform.  Perhaps the most intrusive, frustratingly bureaucratic years in the past two decades in the Philadelphia School District were the Ackerman years from 2008-2011, driven by scripted curriculum and suffocating central office visits from the clipboard wielding Ackerman Gestapo.  This period was the direct result of Obama/Duncan’s “National Reform Model,” AKA: gotcha policies and stifling regulation trickling down from the control freaks known as the U.S. Dept. of Ed.

So who will Romney pick as his education secretary?  Here’s a list of possibilities, according to Education Week: Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty, Tony Bennett (Indiana’s superintendent of Public Instruction), Tom Luna (the Idaho superintendent of public instruction), Chris Cerf (a registered Democrat who works with GOP governor Chris Christie), Robert Scott (former Texas chief), Paul Pastorek (helped schools in Louisiana recover from Hurricane Katrina), Bill Green (executive chairman at Accenture, a consulting organization), and Joel Kline (former New York City chancellor), among others.  (To read about their backgrounds on education, click here).

But the best hope, of course, is that Romney won’t pick a new secretary.  That is to say, that the newly elected president will make his first order of business to send the U.S. Dept. of Ed. the way of the blue suede shoe, and allow local school boards, parents, and teachers the true freedom to drive policies and reform.