BATH – There is a serious conflict between our deepest hopes for the kind of people our children will become, with what our educational system is expecting from them.

I think we want our children to have strong character — qualities like courage, integrity, concern for others, curiosity and leadership. These ensure them of a meaningful and highly respected life, which gives their parents and teachers a profound sense of fulfillment.

This highlights the deeper problem within our educational system: It is committing our children to an education that doesn’t reflect our deeper hopes and expectations. The frenzy to produce higher test scores increasingly ignores the basic development of character, and we end up disapproving of many student attitudes and behavior.

This system is not earning American students the respect they deserve. Worse, it does not lead them to respect themselves or each other:

School shootings like Columbine. How can such prisonlike hostility exist in environments that should be fostering deep bonds of trust and respect?

Bullying. This bone in America’s throat is highlighted by tragic suicides of targeted students. Bullying is accepted as something schools cannot change, only contain or control. Schools hire consultants, hold training sessions; become more vigilant, etc. Some states propose laws to make bullying a crime.

Cheating. Decades of yearly surveys reveal the vast majority of American youth cheat at school and now that a third steal from stores. Our society accepts cheating like a necessary evil; as one student remarks, “Cheating is necessary to give you the edge you need to succeed in life.”

Purpose. Students once talked about “making a difference” or “leaving the world a better place.” But last year, a survey indicated that of youths 18 to 25, only 20 percent could be classified as “purposeful.”

In addition, we see increasing incidents of poor sportsmanship, incivility and disrespect in American students.

Consider the heavy toll all this takes on the dignity, confidence and self-respect of American students. These behaviors and attitudes may wound us, but they can rob students of becoming the people in life they could and should be.

Students are both distracted and demeaned by these issues. We adults must effectively address them to gain student confidence, respect and trust. Doing so will both demonstrate our mentorship — which they sometimes scorn — and our dedication, not to this system, but to their full development as individuals.

Our present educational system overwhelmingly values academic proficiency, often at the expense of student character, while producing mediocre academic achievement.

I propose a simple transformation in American schools that will begin to emphasize character, while improving academic proficiency: Utilize two grades instead of one in evaluating student performance.

The first grade would continue to solely evaluate academic achievement.

However, a second grade would evaluate a student’s effort, as reflecting attitude, perseverance, hard work, attentiveness, curiosity, decorum and other qualities of character. Research demonstrates that students who are praised for their effort clearly show superior progress over those praised for “being smart.”

So, while the effort grade would be a vital step in addressing student character and restoring student dignity, it will also significantly improve academic performance.

Achievement grades are too dependent upon innate abilities, but an effort grade gives every student a chance to excel. And a true “blue ribbon” school would have most students on its “effort” honor roll.

Students could be strongly motivated to improve their effort grade, not to compete, but simply to do their best. The more emphasis schools put on the effort grade, the more students would feel in control of their own success.

This is the grading system used in our network of six public and private Hyde Schools. The effort grade is so embedded in our school culture, it reflects student confidence, pride and respect. Our top academic senior at our Bath school last June went to Stanford, but in her graduation speech (every senior speaks at graduation) she proudly focused on her struggles in running.

The effort grade levels the playing field for students, giving each a real opportunity to achieve confidence, pride and respect. Issues like bullying and cheating become student concerns, because they threaten the dignity the students have earned.

If adults do a good job in honoring the effort grade, they — like Hyde — will empower the students to help them successfully address these issues — and improve academic performance in the process.

The effort grade — a vital first step in both respecting students and transforming schools — should become an American institution.


– Special to the Press Herald


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