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Re: Opening at East Central College

I think there are some issues that could/should be discussed. I have
witnessed many of the incidents described, except I have not witnessed
them compressed into one institution nor compressed into a time period
of a couple years. However, after teaching at the college level for 26
years (at one institution), having "survived" seven deans, having taught
as an adjunct at several other institutions within reasonable driving
distance, etc., I can say that I have pretty much observed or even been
involved in many of the incidents described.

The situation at the secondary and elementary level is one at which many of
the abuses and more can readily be observed.

* * Changing Grades * *

According to state law in TX only the teachers can change the grades.
However principals have been known to do this, despite the fact that this is
grounds for dismissal or worse. Private schools are an exception as they
operate outside this law. Because of the fact that funding is an issue some
students are deemed exempt from failure, and sometimes even exempt from low
grades. This alone is a good reason why private school vouchers will not
improve education.

* * Too Easy Grading * *

I once taught a "science course" in a master of education program at
another institution. After accepting the job, I got a phone call from
the department chair of the education department of that institution.
He said something like this. "I just want to make sure you understand
that you are not allowed to give any exams or any homework. All
students who attend your classes are to be given grades of A. It is our
policy that in-service teachers working on a masters degrees have enough
things to worry about, and we don't want to jeopardize the enrollment in
our masters program. If you do not agree with this, turn down the job

No wonder teachers are not given respect by parents and students. Again
this sort of nonsense is rampant at the secondary level, and even has been
institutionalized publicly. Cypress Creek in the Houston area had a public
policy that no more than 15% of students can be flunked. The teachers were
forced to sign an agreement to this. It was not voluntary. Then in midyear
they claimed this also included the grade D.

Our school changed the grading scale from equally spaced D-A in the range of
70-100% to one with 90s=A,80s=B, 75-79=C, 70-74=D. Predictably the average
grade rose from the C range to the B range. This was done to help the
students in advanced classes but the results were stunning. They refused to
publish the honor roll. I suggested, "Just publish it in a smaller
typeface". That way the names will be proportional to the significance of
the honor.

I would submit that grade inflation might sometimes be justified. If you
are teaching using PER, and achieve higher FCI scores you should be able to
justify higher grades.

Then there is the fact that what you do in class really does matter. The
thesis by Mehl at Capetown showed that you can change the outcomes by making
some changes in teaching. He analyzed the student deficiencies in a physics
course for premeds. Then his team devised worksheets to address the
specific deficiencies (shades of McDermott?). The lectures were also
changed to stress general problem solving skills. He did this for only the
English speaking sections of the course. The Afrikaans sections had the
regular course. Both took the same tests. The Afrikaans sections had the
usual 50% failure rate. The English sections had a 100% passing rate. The
only criticism that can be leveled at Mehl is that he did not achieve these
results by involving the students in the process by promoting metacognition.

* * Prerequisites * *

Before computers, making sure everyone in class had the proper
prerequisites was the job of the student's advisor. There was no way
the registrar could check this for all students. We did have lots of
students who "slipped in." With the advent of computerized
registration, the computer will not allow a student to enroll in the
course unless the student shows a passing grade in all prerequisite
courses. The only way for a student to get around this is to obtain a
signed waiver from the professor of the course. Not even the dean or
department chair can force me to accept a student without the

The teachers in secondary schools have no control over who enters their
classes. At my school the prerequisites have often been ignored. The
teachers in the previous years are supposed to recommend students for
specific courses and levels, but this is often ignored. The situation is
sometimes worse in other schools. I know of one school where students were
randomly assigned to regular, advanced, or AP courses.

* Use of ineffective teaching strategies

This is a topic which needs to also be exposed. Administrators will never
give an instructor poor marks for delivering standard lecture, recitation,
labs. However they have been known to be unsympathetic for instructors who
use research based curriculum.

Conversely it is the responsibility of the instructor to learn about the
current science education research, and in the case of physics PER.
Implementing it is actually a fairly difficult task, so perhaps they can be
forgiven for not implementing it fully. HS and elementary teachers can
generally be excused for not implementing research based strategies because
they have little time or ability to do this type of thing by themselves.
Very few are a Malcolm Wells.

* Misleading students about their status

While the abuse of teachers by administrators is certainly a visible
problem, the abuse of students is even worse. Students in engineering were
apparently being misled that they were making satisfactory progress. They
are being abused in the worst possible ways. They are paying good money and
being given decidedly shoddy goods. When they get out and find that they
can not get jobs, and employers discover their incompetence, then they might
realize that their expensive education was not worth the money. Competent
instructors can move on, but the students may never recover. OTOH some of
them might recover by going into politics. Then we will all suffer. I am
assuming that the incompetent graduates will never be allowed to design
anything of importance. If this is not true, then again we will all suffer.

John M. Clement
Houston, TX