Phi Beta Cons

When Students Fall Through the Cracks

Some students, on the surface at least, seem to do well in today’s K-12 environment, which increasingly is marked by standardized testing and incessant grading. Such academic competition starts early and is reinforced by teachers and parents.

For many other students, however, this system does more harm than goodAmong other things, it leaves those who aren’t academically inclined or who may not be adept at coursework far behind. And as Alexander Astin, emeritus professor at UCLA, argues in his new book Are You Smart Enough?, that problem is exacerbated in college, where the drive for high rankings in U.S. News & World Report, as well as professors’ ”publish or perish” mentality, are deeply ingrained. Those incentives do no favors for many of the ill-prepared students coming out of today’s K-12 schools. 

Astin, who has a liberal perspective, offers several reforms which are analyzed by George Leef in this week’s Pope Center Clarion CallOne proposal endorsed by Leef is aimed at changing college grading systems so that true learning, and not letter grades, becomes top priority. Current grading practices may keep professors and students happy, but they don’t always give marginal students the kind of feedback they really need.

“I like Astin’s objective of restoring a student-centered ethos to education,” says Leef. “Trying to change the system from the top won’t get us there, however. What is needed is for students and parents to realize that swallowing the education that’s given to them isn’t the best way. They’ll have to change things from the bottom by seeking out schools and online programs where student progress comes first.”

Jesse SaffronJesse Saffron is a writer and editor for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a North Carolina-based think tank dedicated to improving higher education in the Tar ...


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