Do you remember the day-to-day minutiae of your high school days? Do you remember all of the work you had to do? Or just the fun parts like relaxing with your friends and playing sports? Could you survive attending high school today?
Kids these days still have fun in school (or at least they do in non-Covid times), but they have a lot of workload expectations heaped on them. In large numbers, students are failing or suffering from mental illness due to the high levels of expectation. It needs to stop. Kids (yes, even high schoolers) need to be kids.
Why all the Stress? The current state of education as a nation
Some teachers and schools recognize the amount of stress placed on students by heavy workloads and are taking steps to correct it. Recently, some schools or school districts have stopped assigning homework. This is more common in the lower grades (Kindergarten through grade 8) and usually stops by high school. The thinking is that by high school, students need to start preparing for work/“the real world”. But in high school, they are experiencing new, real world scenarios and may still need to be sheltered. A student experiencing parental job loss and food insecurity is not likely to complete homework no matter the incentive or disincentive. But they are now facing two large, long-lasting negative scenarios–loss of grades/GPA and the insecurity.
The importance placed on their GPA is mentally damaging. Colleges and whole college systems are no longer requiring standardized test scores as admissions components (1). But the colleges still need some criteria to weed out students less likely to succeed (2). Colleges want to maintain their image of exclusivity and elite status as it comes at a hefty price tag. According to a recent OpEd in The Street (3), colleges are giving more consideration to teacher recommendations and “signs of intellectual curiosity”. Intellectual curiosity? The problem with those measures is they are biased and vague at best. So, what do colleges use instead? High school GPA. In an era where 4.0 is no longer the highest GPA possible due to the Advanced Placement 5.0 scale (4), one failing or mediocre course grade can tank dreams of college admission. Though with Covid course grade changes (many classes went to a pass/fail grading system), GPA may not be accurate either. Even with the uncertainty, GPA rules in multiple-measure admissions.
Grades are not just important to individual students. Higher grades tend to be associated with higher standardized scores (5). In K-12 education, standardized tests are king. State and federal laws, like No Child Left Behind or Every Student Succeeds Act, make collection of student data (including test scores and graduation rates) mandatory (6). State funding is often tied to student success on data collection instruments (state-wide standardized tests) (7). Teachers have been fired or non-renewed for poor student performance on these tests (8). So while teachers and administrators want to be conscientious of student needs, they can’t when the risk is too greatly tied to their own livelihood. After all, why abandon a teaching strategy that works for most of the students (assigning heavy workloads) for a new, untested strategy (assigning no homework)?
This is part one of a three-part series on the current state of education. Stay tuned for more!
- Pascarella E.T., Cruce T., Umbach P.D., Wolniak G.C., Kuh G.D., Carini R.M., Hayek J.C., Gonyea R.M., Zhao C. Institutional selectivity and good practices in undergraduate education: How strong is the link? J. High. Educ. 2006;77:251–285. doi: 10.1353/jhe.2006.0016
3/25/21 UPDATE: After June 2021, College Board will officially stop offering SAT subject tests and the Essay.