Woke, 'Equity' Focused CA Proposal Would End Grades In State Colleges

P. Gardner Goldsmith | May 11, 2022
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Couched in terminology like “exploring innovations in educational delivery,” a recent release from the California University System proposes what its tax-funded staff seem to think is a great way to virtue-signal: eliminate letter grades for academic achievement.

Indeed. It’s not about academic achievement anymore. It’s about “equity.”

On its first page, the lengthy release tells us:

Prior presentations to the Board of Regents have described ongoing UC efforts to assess, innovate, and adapt instructional methods to support learning outcomes. The University is following the same approach in evaluating assessment and grading methods to improve learning outcomes, promote academic integrity, and advance educational equity.

Curiously, the “educational equity” focuses on eliminating standard grades derived from basic numerical measurements of correct and incorrect answers on exams. This, because some students might come from high schools that saw the students poorly served.

The bureaucrats don’t use the term “poorly served.” They use “under-resourced” – i.e. not handed enough tax money.

Indeed, one of the fundamental myths the UC system paper perpetuates is the canard that high schools are underfunded. From there, the UC President folds that myth into another myth, that this “lack” of funding automatically leads to “education inequity” – for which the University system must now accommodate… by eliminating letter grades for students.

Faculty strive to be fair and eliminate bias from assessment, but standard grading practices may perpetuate bias. For example, averaging grades across multiple assignments may seem fair, except after considering differences in academic preparation. A student from an under-resourced high school may perform poorly on initial assignments but then master the final. That student will always have a lower grade overall because of their preparation starting point, compared to another student from a well-resourced high school that started strong and does as well on that final, but has never progressed in the course.

This, despite the fact that in 2020, the California Policy Center estimated total state-level per-student spending to be $20,000, and studies show that high levels of education spending do not correlate to high student performance.

For example, in 2010, Mona Charen noted for National Review:

Comparing educational achievement with per-pupil spending among states also calls into question the value of increasing expenditures. While high-spending Massachusetts had the nation’s highest proficiency scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, low-spending Idaho did very well, too. South Dakota ranks 42nd in per-pupil expenditures but eighth in math performance and ninth in reading. The District of Columbia, meanwhile, with the nation’s highest per-pupil expenditures ($15,511 in 2007), scores dead last in achievement.

And in 2018, Will Flanders composed a revealing analysis, which he saw published in the Washington Examiner:

(W)e collected five years of comprehensive data on spending in all 422 school districts in Wisconsin. Because funding varies between school districts and over time, this creates something of a natural experiment to compare spending with student outcomes. We examined the relationship between student outcomes and overall, per-student spending, spending on teacher salaries, and spending on administrative personnel.

The results?

The results were staggering, even after accounting for other demographic and socioeconomic factors that can impact student performance.

All three types of spending were related to either negative proficiency or null proficiency gains for students. None of the types of spending examined were found to correlate with better student outcomes. Of the three, perhaps the least surprising is that more spending on non-teaching staff leads to worse student outcomes. The growth of the education bureaucracy has received increased attention in recent years, with school districts putting more and more money into positions that do not directly touch the classroom. Our research here shows that this is counterproductive if the goal is to improve student performance.

And Flanders also reported:

More surprising is that teacher pay and overall spending are negatively related to student outcomes. Wisconsin is a state that ranks relatively high in funding equity across school districts, and more funds are directed toward school districts with more difficult populations. The same can be said for teacher pay, which is often higher in school districts with proportionally more challenging students. So while we wouldn’t claim that additional dollars actually hurt student achievement, we would say that they certainly don’t seem to help. This finding is consistent with much of the research on school finance, which tends to show null or very small positive effects on performance. School funding has increased immensely since the 1970s, and we appear to have crossed the threshold of diminishing returns, whereby additional spending does not lead to commensurate increases in student performance.

And, of course, placing the evaluative power in the hands of the government means that no real evaluation can be done, because valuation always depends on the person paying for a product or service.

The same goes for “equity.”

Even if some students are poorly served, and this leads to “educational inequity,” who defines THAT?

As Alex Parker writes for RedState, that’s something the politicians and office-holders will define, for everyone, with the typical downward trajectory for any kind of real assessment of performance, pre-college:

Regarding an educational revamp, California’s been on the move.

In March, the public secondary ed system permanently abandoned standardized testing in admissions evaluation. An official line asserted such tests didn’t predict how students would perform on regular assignments and tests once in college.

So this new recommendation comes as no surprise, especially to those who understand that government control and taxpayer funding place the money-receiving entity in the unenviable and unproductive position of “the commons,” and this leads to an impossible conflict of interests. Not everyone who pays the taxes can be served by the system, and that system constantly waters-down its content.

Private education does not suffer from that problem, because it actually caters to parents, and must show results.

For California, it seems as if “results” pertain to virtue-signaling, and real performance is dangerous to their woke agenda.


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