Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Selling Grades

Chocolate didn't work. Presumably gift wrap, cookie dough, flower bulbs, toffee peanuts didn't work either. I wouldn't be surprised. It seemed like for a while there, almost every day somebody's child knocked at my door selling something. Sooner or later the neighborhood had to be saturated.

According to a November 10, 2009 article in The News and Observer, one school decided to get creative.

A $20 donation to Rosewood Middle School will get a student 20 test points — 10 extra points on two tests of the student's choosing. That could raise a B to an A, or a failing grade to a D.


Shepherd, the Rosewood principal, said her school needs more technology. She said any money raised would help buy digital cameras for the school's computer lab and a high-tech blackboard.

First, it should be obvious to anyone that a grade-based fund raiser is a terrible idea. How it ever got out of committee is beyond me. Second, surely there are greater priorities than digital cameras and high-tech blackboards. How is the school fixed for music, art and PE, I wonder.

The reaction was swift and sure, coming the very next day.

However, the fundraiser came to an abrupt halt today (November 11, 2009) after a story in The News & Observer raised concerns about the practice of selling grades.

Wayne County school administrators stopped the fundraiser, issuing a statement this morning.

Yesterday afternoon, the district administration met with [Rosewood Middle School principal] Mrs. Shepherd and directed the the following actions be taken: (1) the fundraiser will be immediately stopped; (2) no extra grade credit will be issued that may have resulted from donations; and (3) beginning November 12, all donations will be returned.

One parent involved in the decision defended it as creative.

Breedlove said teachers dig into their own pockets each year to buy classroom supplies for under-funded schools. She said no one voiced any objections until Tuesday.

When teachers contribute funds from “their own pockets,” the first $250 is an “above the line” deduction on the first page of their Form 1040. The deduction of any remainder is lost unless the teacher is able to surmount two thresholds. One, the contribution, when added to other deductible expenses of being a teacher, exceeds 2% of the teacher's adjusted gross income, and two, the sum of all the itemized deductions exceeds the teacher's standard deduction. Most teachers receive no tax benefit beyond that first $250.

More important is Ms. Breedlove's claim that there were no objections until the November 10 news report. I have a hard time believing the school office received no phone calls from irate parents. On the other hand, maybe most parents simply threw the letter from the school away.

Events happened quickly. By the fourth day after the initial report, the principal had gone on leave with the intention of retiring December 1, a month earlier than she had originally planned.

One parent has a point.

Too much emphasis was put on the fundraiser rather than the reason the school has to raise its own money in the first place, said Jennifer Mercer, mother of two Rosewood students.

When it's the little education guys, heads roll. Big financial guys are “too big to fail” or even suffer consequences. As scandals go, this one is pretty small potatoes, yet generated more outrage and quick, retributive action than scandals involving millions of dollars.

And where's the shame? I don't mean the principal's shame, or the Parent Advisory Board's shame, but the national shame? Schools all over the country do not have enough money. Sure, some priorities are probably misplaced, and sure, there is probably waste everywhere to be curtailed. But when I was a kid, we didn't do fund raisers.

The schools had enough money to cover their everyday waste, provide a regular program of art, music and daily physical education, PLUS pay for all kinds of great programs, from violin instruction to fun and exciting summer school offerings to free driver training to special trips to booster buses for away games, to after-school clubs and more. We kids were never burdened with the worry or responsibility of making up shortfalls.

What happened? I have heard that in California, it is all Prop 13's fault. But how does that explain the rest of the country? I really do not know. I was teaching for Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DODDS) overseas when it all gradually went to pieces. When I came back to America, I found the frogs had already been boiled. What happened, and why are we so complacent?

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