Top grades open door to school dance

Straight-A students were invited to a last-period dance, with free pizza and games, at a Maryland middle school, reports the Washington Post. B and C students can join in after school, when the pizza is gone. D and F students — about 35 percent of the student body — aren’t invited at all.

Some parents are complaining the “academic achievement celebration” is elitist.

“The students that don’t get to go end up feeling bad,” said parent Karen Hanlon, whose daughter has learning disabilities and was not invited to the party. Hanlon said the dance “separates the students into groups” in a school already divided between a highly competitive magnet program and the students who come from the immediate neighborhood.

“You’re creating a caste system that could easily result in bullying and victimization, which is what we’re trying to prevent, especially in middle school,” said Barbara Marinak, an associate professor of education at Mount St. Mary’s University. 

The A students are going to bully the D students? Really?

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  1. It’s a reward system, not a caste system. Professor Marinak is using words very imprecisely. There’s nothing pre-ordained and immovable about which kids will end up with A’s, B’s, etc. in a given semester. Smart kids goof off, rich kids waste time at parties, poor kids can do their homework and pay attention in class, and less intelligent kids can take easier classes. With grade inflation and different levels of courses starting in middle school, even students with learning disabilities can get A’s. Teachers, in my experience, are very willing to give better grades to students who put forth an effort.
    I understand feeling sorry for the D students because they feel bad about being excluded from a cool (which probably means more effective than paper certificates of achievement, given how important “coolness” is to this age group) reward. No one likes to make kids feel bad. They are just middle schoolers, not so long out of elementary school. On the other hand, many of them are already biologically capable of reproduction, so maybe it’s not awful for the school to occasionally send them a clear message that they’re doing really badly and it’s not OK.

  2. Perish the thought that outstanding academic achievement should be rewarded at an academic institution! Eastern is a magnet school (humanities and communication) and MoCo has a long tradition of locating magnet schools in under-performing schools, in order to attract higher achievers, so it’s likely that the magnet kids are over-represented among the top students. Envy and resentment; let no child get ahead.

    • momof4,

      Which is exactly why the public school system should be abolished in the U.S. Thank goodness I graduated before the effects of Plyler vs. Texas (USSC 5-4 decision which said that every student regardless of immigration status has the right to a public school education).

      In my day, most of the students who were making D’s and F’s spent most of their time cutting class, or in the dean’s office, or were out doing drugs and drinking, or hanging out at the mall, but it was also legal to drop out at the age of 16, and for the most part, the administrators/counselors/deans were happy to not have them come back.

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    Little wonder kids hate school. Authoritarian stick and carrot reward systems are crude.

    Aren’t the grades themselves reward or punishment enough? This reeks of schools using good students as a means to punish poor students. Why not simply publish class standings on a point system so everyone knows precisely where they stand in comparison to their peers? Then even “good” students can reflect on their inadequacies.

    • Because that would invite all sorts of mischief.

      Someone might correlate class standing with the teachers the kids had. Or provided the data’s available from more the one school, might correlate the data by school. Can’t have that.

      The reason ought to be obvious – when you have no reason to do the job you’re hired/exist to do the prospect of having your performance measured is reflexively daunting. After all, once you start measuring the important outputs it’s just a short, inevitable step to making the adjustments to the process to optimize for those outputs.

      In the context of the public education system that means differentiating between good teachers and bad, good principals and bad. It also means determining which parts of the process are necessary to get the desired results and getting rid of those parts that don’t contribute to those results.

      So far the public education establishment’s done a pretty good job of holding accountability schemes at bay but the tide is not running in their favor. The steady drumbeat voucher, education savings account and charter laws being passed makes it clear that the faith that justified assuming the public education system was doing a good job is all but gone.

      About damned time.

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    This is much better than what they did when I was a student at Eastern. They had the Honor Roll award (ice cream at lunch or something) and the BUG (Bring up a Grade) roll award (roller skating party with pizza.) Some of us quickly realized that the ideal approach was to deliberately get a B first quarter, get an A second, and an A on the exam. Then you got the honor roll perks and the BUG perks.

    Incentives matter. This is a fine incentive, as long as honors students aren’t FORCED to go and dance if they hate dancing.

  5. So I suppose these parents are also protesting the attention and adulation given to the athletically-gifted students, the artists, and the kids who can sing? And for that matter, advocating doing away with Prom King and Queen or Homecoming King and Queen. Or any contest that supports the hierarchy of popularity in school.

    For some of us, good grades were all we had.

  6. Roger Sweeny says:

    As CT points out, it’s a reward system, not a caste system. Castes are permanent, things you can’t get out of.

    But perhaps Ms. Marinek is making a subtle point. Perhaps she is saying that the students who are good this year will be good next year and the next and the next, while the students who are bad this year will be bad this year and the next and the next. If that is the case, the pizza party is rubbing the school’s face in that reality. Very unpleasant.

  7. cranberry says:

    Doesn’t this violate FERPA?

    I don’t approve of rewarding good grades with encouraging kids to skip school–which this effectively does. They teach nothing the last period of that day? What class is less important than a pizza party? And gosh, if it’s a choice between and A in an lower level course (and pizza) vs. a B in a more challenging course (but no pizza), I can think of a number of students who will opt for pizza.

    I suspect some parents are tempted to use the time to take the kids home early for extracurriculars.

    • Cranberry,

      FERPA is designed to protect students private records from disclosure to non-authorized individuals and organizations. It isn’t a FERPA violation if a pizza party is given to students who made all A’s (usually, this is known to everyone anyways, due to the fact that many straight A students are also members of National Honor Society, where you need a 3.5 (that’s when I was in high school) and a recommendation to be admitted.

      When a local college basketball player here in the 1980’s had his atrocious grades posted by a local newspaper, that was a violation of FERPA, since the newspaper had no authorization to get the information in the first place.

  8. “The A students are going to bully the D students? Really?”

    Stereotype much? Do you honestly believe that “A” students don’t bully because they are “A” students? If so, you are COMPLETELY out of touch!

    • George Larson says:

      Please put me in touch. Can you be a bit more precise? I would like to know more about the highly intellectual students abusing the average students. Do street gangs have minimum GPAs? Do the “smart kids” give wedgies to the not so smart? Is it that the less gifted are made to feel inferior to the gifted? Except for the normal abusing the disabled I have not seen anything like this.

      • Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

        It’s this: “Is it that the less gifted are made to feel inferior to the gifted? ”

        In the eyes of modern educational theory, that’s “bullying.”


  9. Me too. I think the idea neatly showcases the cluelessness and ineptitude of public education officials.

  10. Stacy in NJ says:

    Except adults can choose their jobs, employers, or to work at all. Students have little to no choice about whether they attend school and which school they attend. Mandatory attendance.

  11. cranberry says:

    There is a dearth of middle school projects? I think not.

    What is performance, when one thinks of middle schoolers? What is the intent of this program?

    It solidifies a caste system. It does nothing to improve the performance of any student involved. It punishes the Sped kids for being sped.

    Roland Fryer’s research has shown rewards for outputs (grades) have no significant effect on student performance.

    Rewards for inputs DO have significant effects. So, a pizza party could be arranged for kids who read x% more than their personal baseline. Or, for an improved record of handing in homework. Or turning up for tutoring. Set rewards for behavior which is in the students’ control. Lacking that, it becomes a teacher’s pet festival.

    It wastes school resources (money, time in school) for no good result.