PWCS – Where Failure Is No Longer an Option?
It’s not easy being a parent of high school children these days. High school is the launching pad to adulthood – to “the real world” if you will. And knowing the real world is rather unforgiving, we parents work to instill the values and the ethics of personal responsibility and accountability in our children that are crucial for success in the adult world. For the high school young adult this parental academic encouragement is almost universally the same, “Pay attention in class; study hard; do your best; learn the subject matter; and strive to get good grades.” As parents we know that our children’s achievement in high school directly relates to the opportunities they’ll have after graduation. Want to get into that college or university of your choice? Want to be competitive for that career right out of high school? If so, it’s the student’s record of achievement in high school that opens those doors of opportunity. Student effort, grades and achievement count in the real world.
So what’s a parent to think when the senior executive administrator for PWCS high schools proposes that failure really isn’t going to happen here in PWCS? “Failing” a PWCS a high school course really just means a student didn’t “complete” the course with the rest of the class. That’s essentially what the PWCS Associate Superintendent of High Schools, Mickey Mulgrew, told the Washington Post on Sunday a few weeks ago.
The Post Article, “Taking the ‘F’ Off The Grade Books”, reports that one Fairfax County High School is embracing a “huge paradigm shift” where students who fail high school courses…well, never really fail. Instead they’re just “Incomplete” in their learning. That’s right, no more failing grades in West Potomac High! Instead, students will be awarded (or gifted?) ”An ‘I’ for incomplete, indicating that students still owe their teachers essential work. They will get Fs only if they fail to complete assignments and learn the content in the months to come.” Sound absurd? You bet. Think it’s only a Fairfax County problem? Think again. Here’s what PWCS’ leading high school authority had to say in the Post about this new educational fad:
“Once they demonstrate mastery, you give them credit for what they know,” said Mickey Mulgrew, Prince William County’s associate superintendent for high schools. The growing belief, he said, is: “Who cares if you learned it on Monday or Tuesday, as long as you learned it?”
Who cares Mr. Mulgrew? – parents and employers for starters. Try that tactic in the college or university of your choosing. “Who cares if I pass the final exam by the end of the course?” – good luck getting your college degree with that approach. “Who cares when I get around to completing a project at work?” – good luck getting a paycheck with that scheme. The truth is this new educrat fad is all about undermining values of responsibility and accountability in favor of rewarding failure. It’s yet another “new low” in public education’s soft bigotry of low expectations, and cause for alarm when senior PWCS officials embrace the nonsense.
Already students have to work very, very hard to fail courses in PWCS needed to earn a Virginia high school diploma. And failing a PWCS high school course due to lack of effort or lack of competency ought not to be celebrated as a positive “paradigm shift” in education. Yet from the Post article, this appears to be where the northern Virginia public school systems are heading. Earning an “F” in PWCS takes a lot of concerted student (non)‑effort these days as PWCS has already made it easier to retake tests and award fewer outright zeroes according to the Post. So why not just take the last remaining stigma – the dreaded “F” – off the PWCS menu. To those students looking for an excuse not to apply themselves, PWCS may be handing them one, gift-wrapped at that. Fail a course? Nope, just “incomplete” it and perhaps get around to “mastering it” some other time; say on a Tuesday or maybe even Wednesday…of one’s senior year. And let’s be clear – the overwhelming majority of students who are failing (or “incompleting” in the new jargon) high school courses aren’t teetering on the edge of mastery – just needing an extra month, season, or perhaps year to get around to learning/mastering the subject matter – they are indeed failing. And it’s the stigma of “failing” that PWCS appears to want to erase from the division’s high schools.
By embracing this new “educational fad” PWCS undermines all the hard work and dedication that parents and teachers put forth to raise and educate high school students to become motivated, responsible, and accountable adults. It sends the wrong message to students and parents alike. When senior PWCS officials openly champion low expectations it undermines the investment parents and citizens make in the public school system with our tax dollars. Whether or not the PWCS Board is even aware of this new “paradigm shift” in Superintendent Walts’ strategic plan for our county schools is unknown. At a minimum it gives citizens reason to be very concerned about the oversight of our school system and the direction PWCS is heading.
Mr. Mickey Mulgrew, Associate Superintendent for PWCS High Schools can be reached via e-mail at: MULGREWM@pwcs.edu or by phone: 703-791-7238.
The PWCS Board can be reached via e-mail at: MJOHNS@pwcs.edu, GLATTIN@pwcs.edu, BCOVINGTON@pwcs.edu, LBELL@pwcs.edu, MOTAIGBE@pwcs.edu, DRAMIREZ@pwcs.edu, DRICHARDSON@pwcs.edu, GTRENUM@pwcs.edu or by phone: 703-791-8709/8705