TED Conversations

Mark Barnes

ASCD, International Society for Technology in Education


This conversation is closed.

Isn't it time to eliminate grades in education?

Give a student an F, she's learned nothing. Giver her an A, and what has she learned? Still nothing. Grades are subjective crutches, used by teachers because they either do not know any better, or because they are forced to give them by an archaic system.

Grades should be replaced by meaningful narrative feedback, which helps students understand what learning outcomes have or have not been mastered. Feedback also encourages learning, while grades only stifle it.

It's time for grades to be eliminated.


Closing Statement from Mark Barnes

This conversation was a remarkable experience -- one that gave me plenty to think about and to write about in my upcoming book (ROLE Reversal, ASCD 2012). I believe that many people here seem at least open to the idea of moving beyond the subjective, punitive grading system that we use today. Some still believe that grades are the only way to evaluate learning. It appears from the discussion that, in most cases, this is because they haven't been exposed to formative assessment and self-evaluation over summative testing and grades. Grades are a measuring tool, and not a very good one. The problem is not just grading but the idea that measurements are necessary in the first place. Learning should never be measured. Rather, it should be shared, discussed and evaluated openly; these discussions should be accompanied by objective feedback that guides students to other possibilities and to reflection and self-evaluation.

Upon consideration of all comments here, I remain steadfast in my belief that education needs ongoing narrative feedback. Any other system is arrogant and a mistake.

Thanks to all who participated.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Aug 4 2011: Mark,
    I am afraid that removing the grading process from the classroom would be much like removing prices from the market - there is simply no other way to objectively and effectively compare objects (either a product or student) without a baseline. Granted, some teachers undermine the grading system with weighted grades and by subjectively changing grades based on their own whims, as another commenter alluded to. However, we do not protect ourselves against con-artists by re-inventing the market, and you should not attempt to re-invent the education system simply because some teachers cannot live up to the professional responsibility granted to them.
    There is another fallacy being propagated on this thread that I want to address and that is this seemingly inherent assumption that education/learning only occurs at school, and thus schools ought to pursue the most eclectic system which allows for the most broad-ranged theories of learning. This is not the case. A person learns at home, then home and school, then home and school and market, and then home and market. School is only a small part of the education process. Mark, I believe your ROLE system would work fantastic in one-on-one situations - that is actually why parents have been using it for centuries. But it can not work when a single teacher is responsible for twenty students. It is not efficient.
    Moreover, I believe those who wish to eliminate the competition of the grading system are failing to recognize one of the essential qualities of school - which is to prepare students for the market. Removing competition from the mind of an eight-year-old may indeed give him a more pleasant childhood, but it will retard his ability to adapt to ever-changing market conditions in adulthood, since these changes are manifested in Profits & Losses. On the whole, I see NO REASON for adapting Mark's ROLE system to our schools and believe it's affects would be detrimental.

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      Aug 5 2011: Seth, you begin by arguing against the ROLE when you bring up comparing. I'm not interested in comparing students or schools, when it comes to learning. This is one of the biggest problems in education. Even U.S. leaders say we must "compete," which I've never understood. Why should anyone have to be a better learner than someone else. Why should an American be better than a European, or vice-versa, when it comes to learning?

      In the second part of your post, you seem to be right on track with the ROLE, even though you suggest it's faulty. In results-only learning, students are encouraged to learn anywhere and everywhere -- at school, home and wherever they may be. They are given freedom to demonstrate mastery of learning outcomes. A thirst for learning is created.

      It can definitely work with 20 or more students. I've done it successfully. My students complete all activities and projects, go above and beyond what I ask, because they have a drive to learn like their peers in traditional classes do not have.

      As an added "kicker," they outperform other students on standardized tests, even though I don't think these are at all important. Administrators like it though.
      • Aug 5 2011: A letter grade derived from a predetermined and equally applied scoring criteria is absolutely objective. If you have anything to challenge the validity of that statement other than "I don't know which dictionary you use...,' I would like to hear it. As I said before, some teachers may abuse the system but the reason behind introducing scoring criteria and letter grades was objectivity. You undermine that notion when you replace the system with one based on individual teacher and individual student interaction because the dynamic is inherently related to the time, place, circumstance, etc. of the dialogue and the personalities, temperament, interests, etc. of the individual participants.

        Moving on - "I have no interest in comparing students or schools." Yet you seem deeply passionate about comparing learning systems. Alas, if only we had a predetermined scoring criteria to make clear which is better! "This is one of the biggest problems in education." So we come to the crux of the debate. You do not like competition. Therefore you shun any mechanism which illustrates winners and losers in a given competition. Mark, competition is what humans use to become more efficient and thus better themselves. Arguing to eliminate it is, in my opinion, nonsensical nihilism.

        Further, I am seeing this meme: grades v. narrative feedback. As if someone's grades are not a form of narrative feedback? We are discussing mentally functional children, yes? Assuming we have two competent human beings in the teacher and student, the grading system offers a much more efficient way of communicating data than a long-winded, ebb and flow type 'narrative,' that perhaps may (not) enhance the education process in the short term, but will ultimately and assuredly absolve all responsibility within it in the long-term.

        • Aug 5 2011: Shaken
          Let me say that I do believe that grading can be done in a better way than it is now. The point is that there is no real objectivity now. The fact that something is given as a number does not make it objective, just numerical. Everyone has at the end of the day, a subjective grading scale. I believe the kind of reflection with each student and for each student that Mark desires is a very good thing. I do believe a matrix of cognitive and affective learning outcomes can be drawn up to evaluate. I feel that some sort of numerical or sliding scale "grade" may have to be assigned until our system is drastically changed, and that is what I would wish for.
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          Aug 6 2011: Seth, I wonder if you have been in a classroom that uses detailed meaningful narrative feedback over grades. I'm not sure where you get the idea that grades are more efficient than feedback and that feedback is a "long-winded ebb and flow," if you haven't experienced the system.

          As an 18-year classroom teacher, I have seen how students fall into a cycle of one D or F after another, never escaping. They come to believe they are failures, so they lose interest in learning. Students in a Results Only Learning Environment quickly come to love learning, as they are not punished by the endless sea of D's and F's. They look forward to narrative feedback, as they see it as an objective evaluation of what they either have or have not mastered.

          I'm not attempting to say that narrative feedback by itself is complete education reform; rather, it is part of a system that can completely reform education and make all students become efficient learners.

          I welcome all comments, but unless you've experienced both a grades only system and a narrative feedback system, I don't think it's possible to completely rule out one over the other.
        • Aug 8 2011: Shaken
          I don't think it has to be totally individualistic. Remember I said I agree in part with Mark. I think he is signaling a real problem when it comes to assessment. Accountability can come in many different forms, not just through number scores and who gets the highest number score. Teachers should be accountable. I am just not sure that a state wide standardized test is the best way to do that. Grading is important I am not denying that Shaken. I like that Mark is asking the questions about how we do that grading. But I also feel the larger picture of how we teach and what we are "teaching to" is an issue.
        • Aug 8 2011: Seth - how is it objective to assign a grade using criteria for any humanities or arts subjects? Without losing the essence of the art, it cannot be done. All grading, yes, even math, is subjective in some way. The very act of deciding how to weight certain parts of exercises or subjects with different weights is a subjective exercise.

          Back when I took school and the dinosaurs roamed the earth with Jeebus, we were assigned a raw percentage grade. No letter grades were assigned as an interpretation of that percentage. What was assigned was a minimum percentage to pass a class.

          In one of my math classes, we had a teacher who came close to failing me because I was too intuitive regarding the subject matter. I was also a snotty pain in the ass. He would assign 200 or 300 questions on the same mathematical theorem per night. I never did them. I did however do enough to understand the underlying premise of the theorem until I could synthesize and generalize the information. I scored very high on all exams, which is why I passed, but if it had been up to that teacher I would have failed because he scored "objectively". But his scoring system was weighted to doing meaningless (from my point of view) busy work and not mastery of the material.

          Final point: people are not products. Equating them doesn't make them so and designing any system that has that premise as one of it's underlying assumptions means that the system will fail to achieve it's aim, namely to serve those individuals ... that is unless of course that you feel that serving people isn't the aim of education, n'est pas?
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        Aug 6 2011: Mark, I have run into the same thing teaching Emotional Intelligence and service-learning in the classroom. You are asked to prove that it works using standardized testing. I have been lucky enough to work in schools where these elements of the classroom are valued regardless of the outcomes of these tests (and generally students do better than the norm anyway). Crazy, yes?
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          Aug 6 2011: Susan, thanks for a thoughtful post that remains on point.
      • Aug 8 2011: One last thing - A teacher's ability to manipulate test scores would persist in the ROLE system If a teacher is willing to cheat the system under a grading rubric, he is more than likely to do so under the ROLE system. The biggest difference is that, with a rubric, the teacher can be held accountable if found guilty. In the ROLE system, there is no oversight and therefore no responsibility other than that imposed by the teacher on himself. What would stop a teacher from simply denying a student's progress, or defining it in a way that was simply indoctrination? Only his own ethics. As the old saying goes, 'trust but verify' - and we do so through predetermined, objectively applied scoring rubrics, which reflect both the knowledge of the student and the fairness of the teacher.

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          Aug 8 2011: Seth, I'm not sure how we turned to cheating the system. I suppose you could cheat under any system. I like to think that teachers are trying to help students, not cheat them.

          Rubrics, in most cases, are even more subjective than grades.

          As I've said many times in this debate, narrative feedback is completely objective, when used properly. It outlines which learning outcomes were mastered and which were not. There's no subterfuge here, I promise.
        • Aug 9 2011: Mark, you say that "rubrics, in most cases, are even more subjective than grades." I really have to respectfully disagree. A letter grade has no accountability attached to it... this paper is a "B," you had 10 wrong on the math test so you get a "C". Rubrics on the other hand, at the very least, have some type of justification built into it about why the assessment was graded the way it was.
    • Aug 5 2011: Seth
      I have to jump in here on your comment. Grades are not objective in any sense. In a post below I stated a fact. I can write a test everyone can pass and one that everyone can fail. Is that in any sense objective? I worked hard making tests that truly measured learning outcomes I had set out. It would be a great grand wonderful world if everyone did that. But frankly and honestly speaking it isn't how it works.

      Who makes the criteria? The department at the school? An "expert"? The principal? God forbid the legislature. The teacher has to establish the criteria. It is not objective in any real sense even the one used by Shaken.

      I believe that scoring can have a place to help students. We discussed below also maybe a way a matrix to score students on cognitive and affective domain questions. We need some better ways. I still believe that a transformation of the system is what is needed.

      One other thing: Education, not just schooling, is not to prepare students for the workplace. It is to prepare students for life. Life, understanding, knowledge, is bigger and broader than "getting a job." Yes, the economic part of education is there, but that is not the reason we send children to schools. When we really change that mentality, we will have changed the system.
      • Aug 5 2011: "I can create a test where everyone can pass, and a test that everyone cane fail. What is objective about that?" Well, absolutely nothing. Go back and re-read where I qualified the statement with 'being derived from a PREDETERMINED and EQUALLY APPLIED scoring criteria.'

        "One other thing: Education, not just schooling, is not to prepare students for the workplace. It is to prepare students for life. Life, understanding, knowledge is bigger and broader that getting a job....When we really change that mentality, we will have changed the system." You will have also destroyed our country. Every aspect of one's maturation ought to be geared towards becoming a functional, contributing member of society and this nation. The world is not a village. It is separated into and governed by several economic, political units. We need ours to be the strongest. Therefore, we train our citizens with certain skills through our education system. Idiocy such as yours is actually a luxury provided to you by the enormous economic output of this country. We reached this level of opulence because at one time we had educators who understood that SCHOOL is preparation for the MARKET.

        Once again, I feel as though we are debating an approach best suited for LITERATURE classes (if any classes) and yet you are trying to encompass all subjects with this new teaching system. Since Mark declined to do so, I will list subjects in the order of their importance: 1. History 2. Math 3. Sciences (including economics) and finally 4. Literature. I will take someone who can write an algorithm over someone who can quote Shakespeare every day of the week. (And so will employers)

        • Aug 5 2011: Gee whiz.

          No I saw your qualifier, however you did not respond to my "Who makes the criteria" question. See there's the rub (to quote Shakespeare). The point I was making Seth is that testing and therefore your "objective criteria" are not actually objective at all. They are all subject to someone's criteria.

          I am not an idiot or speak out of idiocy, but a lot of experience in teaching. How about you?

          No, education as I describe would not destroy the country actually. It is more attuned to the educational systems of the past not the economics and getting job type of today. By the way, that sort of education is what built our country. Funny huh?

          Thank you for placing History first on your list. As an advanced degree holder in History I appreciate it.

          The MARKET is not life, but only a part of it.

          Did you not like Literature classes?
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          Aug 6 2011: I was onside with you Seth up until the line: "I will list subjects in the order of their importance: 1. History 2. Math 3. Sciences (including economics) and finally 4. Literature."

          Speaking as an algorithmic-minded person (and as a business owner), employers will not "take someone who can write an algorithm" over someone who can write sales copy or interact with others in person and on the phone to close a deal - not if they know what is good for the bottom line. And while it is not taught in schools per se, it is much closer to the literature path than the mathematics/sciences track. (And I really can't imagine why you ranked history above either.)
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          Aug 6 2011: Seth, I won't argue the importance of subjects. All I know is you have to be able to read to get any job. Again, if you understand results only learning, you would see that it works for all learning.
        • Aug 8 2011: Seth, you paint a very frightening picture of what you think our educational system should be. The objective of our educational system should be to produce functioning citizens to serve our nation? That sounds a little authoritarian and creepy to me.
          Education is supposed to unsettle intellects, make people THINK. If everyone came out of schooling with the belief that their sole function was to serve our economy, there wouldn't be anyone who could lead, have vision, and work towards improving society. We need people questioning why we have a nation that is tied to an economy, and why there is such a push for ours to be the greatest by our leaders.

          For someone who ranks History as the most important subject, you seem to show a lack of weariness of power and methods of social control.
      • Aug 5 2011: Oh, where to start -

        I ignored your question because it is impertinent. It does not matter who comes up with the rubric. If it is predetermined and equally applied to all test-takers it is an 'objective measure.'

        "No, education as I describe would not destroy the country actually. It is more attuned to the educational systems of the past not the economics and getting job type of today. By the way, that sort of education is what built our country. Funny huh?" Incredibly funny. Especially considering that my grandmother (71) was offered trade school classes in high school, as was my great-grandmother (would be 101) and my other great-grandmother (would be 99) did not attend school at all. Exactly what point in our history are you referring to?

        "The MARKET is not life, it is only a part of it." I agree. I think it is a very important part of it, though, and thus want to see children trained to succeed in it. The best way to do this is to introduce them to the concept of competition early and by using objective indicators (letter grades or what have you) for them to see how they stand or if they need improvement. You seem to think that it is LIFE itself that students need preparing for. Maybe so, but that is the occupation of parents, not teachers. As a teacher, your only job is to have an extensive knowledge of your subject matter and a prism through which you present this data to your students. The learning is their responsibility. Their cultivation is their parent's responsibility. The phrase 'separation of powers' might ring a bell for an advanced degree holder in history. Maybe you could study the concept again and then try to apply it to societal relations at large. In my opinion, you missed the 'learning outcome,' to the far left.

        Narrative feedback.

        • Aug 5 2011: No, not quite impertinent. You see the person who makes the criteria chooses from a world of information about any one topic. So therefore it is not everything about the topic just what the person who wrote the objectives thinks is important about that topic. So calling it objective on one hand might be easy, but on the other it just isn't. Yes, there are ideas, concepts, and maths that people should learn. But they are learning those not in order to get a grade, but in order to yes, live. Education is about life.

          Sorry, but your argument about who received education has nothing to do with what kind of education they may or may not have received. But then again, that is logical.

          Separation of powers as defined in the US Constitution, as I assume rightly or wrongly you are referring to, has absolutely nothing to do with who educates children. I would like to know who the teacher was that said it had to do with that. And I am not sure the framers of the Constitution had quite that thing in mind. It seems you confuse things. By the way I have "studied the concept".

          I love being accused of being "leftist". It made my day. Che lives!

          This topic is about grading and there have been some excellent comments made to the point. While not agreeing completely with Mark, he may be on to something very good.
      • Aug 7 2011: Gisela, if we were on the same track 90% of the way, I am sure we can clarify our differences and hopefully find common ground.

        I never tried to say an employer would look to someone who can SOLELY write an algorithm. I said that being able to do so (because it is a skill) is more desirable by employers than quoting Shakespeare. Could you elaborate a little further as to how writing a sales copy is akin to Literature? Because they both employ the English language? Or how being able to 'close a deal' is akin to Literature? Because authors, too, can be persuasive? I just don't see how literary analysis would help you with either. (L-Analysis is what is implied in Literature. Grammar is the class which teaches you the ins and outs of the language, and may be what you were actually referring to. I would lump grammar in with history, if restricted to the four categories. See below)

        I listed History first because it is inevitably the first subject a child is introduced to, and because it is what gives one perspective throughout life. A child (and I mean a real child, less than 3 years old, not these 15-year-olds who apparently need Mark and Mike cultivating them for Life), does not understand his present situation, or what is to come, because he lacks a frame of reference. History (and I mean the word in a wider sense than what was between the binding of your American History textbook) provides him with one, i.e. the history of his family, his community, certain institutions he will participate in. Before a child ever learns addition, he possesses a world-view derived from the historical facts he has been presented. Don't misunderstand me - I am not saying that the other subjects are unimportant, just that, in the meta-sense, History is the MOST important. However, this is only my opinion. I am interested what subject you feel is most important and why. I am also interested in how you feel, as a business owner, about our credit downgrade.

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          Aug 7 2011: Good sales techniques (both as copy and in person) involves being able to relate to the other person, to see the value of what is being sold as it relates to them, and to communicate the relevance to their needs. This is typically the domain of the humanities, not maths. (And as for grammar: all the sentence structure in the universe means nothing in the world of selling when compared to emotional import.)

          And I would not say it is a matter of picking one over the other - they are both needed, usually found in different individuals. You can't have crap product and a great sales team for long, nor can you have the best product with no one to sell it.

          It is folly to think one is better than the other.
      • Aug 8 2011: Justin -
        An individual citizen feeling obligated to serve his nation is 'authoritarian'? I was under the impression that authoritarianism was a top-down, command-style society.

        In reality, it is your side that is seeking to make the education system authoritarian - you are making it an instrument of the teacher, rather than an instrument of the student to be used to better himself. You are not viewing the student as a free citizen, he is a member of the teacher's flock to be led and cultivated. Have you not realized that the entire purpose of this system is to keep the student from failing? That's the whole point. Students cannot be allowed to fail. That is a lack of freedom, and a true authoritarian mindset - particularly when the passing/failing is determined through by the 'leader of the flock' alone, the teacher. Somehow, your side is espousing to have teachers eschew all oversight, rob students of a concrete determination of their own success and I am the one called 'authoritarian.'

        Just curious - Is anyone going to try to respond to my claim that removing grades from the classroom would be like removing prices from the market? Or are we going to ignore that like we did during the Economic Calculation Debate? Even if you can prove that your critique of the traditional system is valid (it isn't), you still have to construct a mechanism which allows the teacher to communicate the improvement of the student to someone else (whether his next teacher, an employer, parents, the student himself, etc.) and without grades or rubrics, you do not have one. Or should I say, you do not have an efficient enough one to replace grades or rubrics. You may feel that they are flawed, but they are the best option that we have. That is why we use them.


        *This thread is similar to the ROLE system. Mark has an awful idea, but isn't allowed to be told so. We must coddle and cultivate, and look for positive points of emphasis. This is not a debate.
      • Aug 9 2011: Glipona - So.... How are you going to communicate a student's success? Or failure? Once again, you did not respond to the question, you simply criticized the analogy. Even if you do not like the fact that we need a mechanism to communicate the quality of the student, we still need one. And I am still waiting to hear someone propose an efficient one. You guys can pat yourselves on the back for being CRITICS all you want (of my analogy, of the education system, of the capitalist societal construct, etc.). But a valid critique does not validate an alternative. I am going to make this to where you cannot obfuscate the point -

        What alternative mechanism to the grading system do you propose that we use to compare/contrast student performance, as well as communicate to third parties (other teachers, universities, parents, principals, etc.) the overall knowledge of the student? How will you chart progress?

        And, how do you recommend we maintain teacher oversight under the ROLE system?

        Mark - we got onto the subject of cheating the system because it is one proponent of your argument in favor of the ROLE system. You have said repeatedly that under the grading system a teacher can manipulate test grades - I am simply pointing out that you could continue to do so under the ROLE system, and so the ROLE system does not alleviate that problem.

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        • Aug 10 2011: Seth I have no idea why you are so angry. We are trying to discuss a real problem and find some real solutions. You say you have one, fine, I disagree with you. Education is about so much more than you make it out to be. And yes Seth, educating all of our society, even the low-end as you call them, is a responsibility of our society as a whole. Educational reform is important. People are important. Real people with real problems and real learning needs.

          I do think Mark is asking some great questions, offering some solutions, and calling on people to respond.
      • Aug 11 2011: Glip - My 'tantrum' was inappropriate. I have a temper and I am still young enough to value honesty - when I am pissed off, I am going to sound pissed off. This obviously wasn't the place for it, though, and similar to my level-headed analysis earlier in the thread, it was ignored for the ideas it contained.

        For the majority of my life, I have been in the classroom. IMO, it is the teachers themselves that have created the crisis in our education system, not the infrastructure of the system. The teachers are the problem because they are willing to assist the 'real people with real problems and real learning needs' at the expense of those of us who need no such assistance. This slows down the learning process. It stunts the development of those of us who can process information quickly and are mature enough to deal with criticism without letting it 'define us' as a 'D of F student'. In attempting to HELP, you are HURTING. Although you stress meeting the 'needs' of your students, you are incredibly insensitive to the needs of students who simply need you to TEACH THE COURSE rather than CULTIVATE THE STUDENT. In other words, you FAIL to meet the expectations that an intelligent young man might have of the education system.
        I am also frustrated because of how WORTHLESS many teachers have become. Mike cannot even form a grammatically-correct sentence in the majority of his posts, yet he is a teacher. Mark apparently still possesses a pre-adolescent physiology, or has at least stunted his masculine impulse to compete, yet he wants to cultivate students into MEN? How could he? And you? Talking with you is unnerving. How do you not realize that a 'criterion-referenced checklist' IS a RUBRIC? Yet you are an educator. It's all a cruel joke.
        Yes, my opinions are REACTIONARY. They are a REACTION from dealing with TEACHERS LIKE YOU for the last seventeen years. And, really, it's anger stemming from a profound sense of DISAPPOINTMENT. . .
      • Aug 11 2011: Glip - I am pretty sure that your 'though you are clearly very smart intellectually' comment was a snide remark, but i am going to treat it as thought is is not.

        First, being 'smart intellectually' is not antithetical to being 'emotionally charged.' Therefore the 'though' that qualifies the statement is unnecessary and might lead the casual reader to incorrectly assume the two are opposing characteristics. If you (were still able to) look more closely at my 'tantrum' you will see there are several intellectual points made, which I have now clarified in a follow-up post. The flight of high-performance students from the public education system will be a trend that affects your profession in the coming five to fifteen years.

        Secondly, Thank you for the (I assume) compliment.. But keep in mind that I am not at my full potential. I would have progressed much further as both a student and professional had I had teachers who did not employ the techniques you are promoting, and that I am criticizing. Once again, if you were to differentiate between sets of students, and utilize the ROLE system for the under-achievers, while maintaining a traditional system for over-achievers, maybe it would work. But there will be a tragedy of unfulfilled potential on the higher end of the learning curve if your system is implemented for the student body, at large.

      • Aug 12 2011: Glip - The edit button, good idea. New to internet forums but I will catch on.

        I have been arguing in favor of rubrics. Especially when they are complemented with a numerical calculation of completion and a letter grade to act as a summary of the success/failure of the work. I have never said they are not useful tools. I do think that they lose their effectiveness and their efficiency when done without the numerical calculation and letter grade. You seem to think that a rubric is fine, and even a letter grade is fine, but only at the end of the learning program. I think that a numerical calculation and letter grades help during the learning program, because i think that students are more than capable of discerning the information in regards to the rubric and are able to identify their mistakes and fix them, IF they are dedicated to doing so.

        Socrates did not like competition? He was constantly trying to out-smart his contemporaries. Hell, he even tried to publicly embarrass many of his opponents. He was not an educator - he was a showman. Moreover, Socrates lived in an aristocratic society where even the most able was defined by his social class. Thank goodness we don't operate under such a system! Now, if suitably skilled, an individual has the ability to work himself up in social rank - by outperforming his contemporaries. This is a fact of life that needs to be incorporated into your teaching system, and actually seems to indicate that it is my position which is more in the tradition of Socrates, who was himself most concerned with - outperforming his contemporaries. Anyone who sees in Socrates a pure drive for knowledge certainly does not have the best of eyes - and is also selectively applying the 'interesting things' which psychoanalysis advocates. How quickly would Socrates have condemned his ideas had they been what was at stake! What he could not forsake was his - role. Socrates, always the hero of the Tragedy of Socrates. . .
      • Aug 12 2011: Did you really think you had found a dispassionate, cold and calculating drive for knowledge in antiquity? When they worshiped gods that were simple extensions of their own emotions? Theirs was a culture of the theater, not the classroom. Projection, projection, projection. . .

        A cold 'drive for knowledge'? You really have to wait until the Middle Ages to find yourself an example of that, and even then it is questionable.

        The world is quickly becoming split between Freudians and Nietzscheans - one with a justification for weakness, the other with a justification for strength. Is it any wonder each of us has pet theories to discredit the other? "Oh, you want to dominate? Sign of emotional weakness." "Oh, you wish not to compete? Sign of spiritual decadence." This can go both ways.

        You have said that competition (the market) should not serve as a model for the education system. You have also shunned 'fixed hierarchies,' so I am presuming you are not wishing to model the education system after the family. Does your model of the education system possess a counter-part outside of the classroom? Or are we creating an 'island' of existence - isolated from societal relations at large?

        I am interested by what process you allow local businessmen to review your learning programs. Are these people you simply happen to know from the business community, or is there a mechanism which allows business people and teachers to collude (or simply review) the programs presented at local schools? And from what industries are these business leaders?

      • Aug 12 2011: Glip - I have never had a teacher simply look at a paper and write an 'A' on it, without any mention of what was being graded, why it was being graded so, the points of emphasis, etc. This is a phenomenon which you and Mark both refer to, but that I have never experienced. If teachers do that, then the way in which they are grading needs to be changed (to implement predetermined and objectively applied scoring rubrics, as I have repeatedly stated), not the process of assigning letter grades altogether. Certainly your district does not allow teachers to run roughshod over a student's work without any reference as to why one received the grade one did. Or does it?

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      Aug 5 2011: Seth, what I have to validate my assertions about grades and competition is decades of experience. What you may not know is I've taught both ways - in the traditional, grade world and the results only, feedback world. I don't need definitions or research. I have seen the results.

      We will never agree about competition. I am human and I am not driven by competition. I'm driven by the satisfaction of helping students develop a thirst for learning and by working to change our broken education system.

      Hope you'll keep an open mind. Thanks.
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        • Aug 7 2011: There is no question that eliminating competition in the education system is both unlikely and probably unwise. But I see no reason that more deeply involved teachers who emphasize "learning for life" or "learning for the sake of learning" or whatever would put students at a disadvantage in any kind of market. Students who develop the drive and self-motivation to pursue an interest beyond the bare minimum seem to perform better than those who seek only high grades.

          I think that such a "separation of powers" would be unwise as more involved teachers can help make up for poor parenting (just as good parenting can help to mitigate poor teaching). An overlap of such duties in this case might seem inefficient but could serve as a social safety net for some communities.
        • Aug 8 2011: Seth,

          A few salient points.

          First - no scoring system is inherently objective. The process of choosing what to grade and how much to weight those grades is subjective.

          Second, while schools used to feature vocational education, it meant something very different that what you think it does. My dad was educated then and was pulled out of school to work on the family farm by the 8th grade. He retired with 600 firefighters under his command and can do complex differential hydraulic calculations in his head. He understands latin. And he can do all of this because it was taught to him by teachers who only tested once or twice a year. And the reason that the schools back then did vocational education was because they were preparing students for life, NOT THE MARKET. You seem to have a mystical understanding and almost magical connection to the market - you might want to examine why. I would suggest "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle " by Chris Hedges as a good starting point. Then you could work your way through the references. Just sayin.

          3rd: Although his grammar may be atrocious at times, at least he is not deliberately dismissive of others and situations he has no knowledge of. You made this personal -- "MayB you no understand me cuz i dont talk like ur dum studentz" -- and that was unprofessional, uncalled for, and despicable. You sir, are flying your cad flag.

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