In an imperfect world, public education often becomes the target of complaints about the entire state of education. Although I realize faults exist within the system, I also recognize that amazing accomplishments, in the face of financial and social assault, exist. Rather than continuing to chastise public schools, we must ask, “What can we do to help the public system”?
One of the new bills approved by our Texas Legislators [House Bill 2804] proposes to assign letter grades ranging from A-F to public schools. Various people, not working within any public school system, applaud this bill believing it sheds light on the possible ineffectiveness of individual schools. Unfortunately, two major myths contributed to the development of this bill.
The first myth is that punishment and embarrassment motivate individuals to work harder and achieve more. In reality, very few individuals find failure motivating. Fear of failure promotes stress. Fear driven stress invites personal resignation leading to failure in the classroom. Most people work harder and maintain greater motivation as a result of positive recognition. Instead of constantly bashing public education, a public accounting of accomplishments would bolster true motivation. It should be noted that public schools must accept all children, regardless of economic, social, intellectual, or athletic strengths. When children fail to succeed in a private school, they are returned to the public system.
The second myth perpetuates a belief that competition promotes improvement. Although this works in sports, competition does not achieve positive results in education. The overall objective of helping each student must outweigh personal goals for recognition. Schools must foster a “one for all and all for one” point of view. Once the system pits teachers against one another, powerful support greatly diminishes. Thus, “Race to the Top” inadvertently destroys one of the most powerful components of education — the desire to work together for the greater good of society.
If we insist on assigning letter grades from A–F to public schools, we can expect negative outcomes. Schools receiving grades of C, D, or F experience immediate humiliation. All motivation vanishes. Instead of attracting and retaining quality teachers, schools lose even more good people. In addition, fear of low “grades” raises the omnipresent level of anxiety. Exhausted and worried teachers ultimately lack the energy to do their finest work.
I cannot think of a more diabolical method to destroy hope in public education than to saddle schools with letter assessments.