Under pressure from an unprecedented constellation of forces—from state lawmakers to prestigious private schools and college admissions offices—the ubiquitous one-page high school transcript lined with A–F letter grades may soon be a relic of the past.
In the last decade, at least 15 state legislatures and boards of education have adopted policies incentivizing their public schools to prioritize measures other than grades when assessing students’ skills and competencies. And more recently, over 150 of the top private high schools in the U.S., including Phillips Exeter, Choate, and Dalton—storied institutions which have long relied on the status conveyed by student ranking—have pledged to shift to new transcripts that provide more comprehensive, qualitative feedback on students while ruling out any mention of credit hours, GPAs, or A–F grades.
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After Jonah got his acceptance letter to college, we thought we reached the parenting finish line. Woot! Victory lap! High fives! Margaritas for all!
And then I started talking to people. I was a little surprised about what I found out. So, I wrote an article.
Stacy G.’s daughter was having a meltdown. Her daughter, a sophomore at a prestigious private college, wanted an internship at Boston Children’s Hospital, a plum job that would look great on her applications to graduate school. After four weeks of frantically waiting for the school to arrange for an interview at the hospital, Stacy called her daughter’s adviser at the internships office to complain.
“For $65,000 [in full attendance costs], you can bet your sweet ass that I’m calling that school … If your children aren’t getting what they’ve been promised, colleges are going to get that phone call from parents,” Stacy said. “It’s my money. It’s a lot of money. We did try to have her handle it on her own, but when it didn’t work out, I called them.”
In a stunning 8-0 decision in the case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a higher standard of education for children with disabilities. Advocates and parents say the case dramatically expands the rights of special-education students in the United States, creates a nationwide standard for special education, and empowers parents as they advocate for their children in schools. But critics say the decision will not have any impact on schools, arguing that the vast majority already provide a good education for those kids.
As I explained in January, the parents of Endrew F. removed him from his local public school, where he made little progress, and placed him in a private school, where they said he made “significant” academic and social improvement.
In 2012, Drew’s parents filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Education to recover the cost of tuition at the school, which is now about $70,000 per year. The lower courts ruled on behalf of the school district on the grounds that the intent of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is to ensure handicapped kids have access to public education—not to guarantee any particular level of education once inside. But the parents appealed, with the case eventually landing at the Supreme Court.
Last week, Charles Murray, a writer and scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, was shouted off the stage before giving a presentation at Middlebury College, a small liberal-arts college in Middlebury, Vermont. After the talk was relocated to a different location, Murray, faculty, and staff from the college were physically assaulted by protesters. Allison Stanger, a member of the political-science department who conducted the Q&A with Murray, was hospitalized for injuries and diagnosed with a concussion.
Murray, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the author of The Bell Curve (1994), which finds correlations between intelligence and success, and Coming Apart (2012), which discusses the polarization of communities in the United States. His latest book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, urges Americans to stem governmental overreach. Murray’s statements about race and intelligence, in particular, have garnered extensive criticism, though Murray has repeatedly denied that his views are racist, arguing that his ideas have been wildly mischaracterized.
Catholic schools, once a mainstay for the Irish, Italian, and Polish communities in American cities, are struggling. With shrinking numbers of nuns as a source of free labor, and fewer parishioners passing the donation baskets on Sunday and enrolling their kids in parochial schools, many simply cannot afford to keep their doors open. Just last week, the Archdiocese of New York announced the closure of five more schools for financial reasons; that’s on top of dozens that were shutteredin 2011 and 2013.
In fourth grade, Drew’s behavioral problems in school grew worse. Gripped by extreme fears of flies, spills, and public restrooms, Drew began banging his head, removing his clothing, running out of the school building, and urinating on the floor. These behaviors, which stemmed from autism and ADHD, meant that Drew was regularly removed from the classroom in his suburban school outside of Denver and only made marginal academic improvement, according to court documents.
Many eyes have been on Trump Tower as the president-elect and his transition team have started to select key cabinet positions. Effectively shutting down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan during these deliberations, the team is making decisions that will shape wide-ranging policies, on everything from immigration to trade, in the coming years.
For people like myself who are closely monitoring what the future will look like for schools, the locus of attention is not on Trump Tower, but on the state capitals, which have the greatest power over America’s classrooms. Like the upheaval that happened with the national election, the states had somewhat of their own shake up this November, with Republicans winning a record number of legislative spots—and a historic high for governorships—in what some have described as a “bloodbath.”