Students or Victims? Why Lowering the Bar is a bad idea.

On Tuesday evening the Volusia County School Board missed the mark.  Again.  Twice.

After a months-long brouhaha over the issue of student uniforms, the Board can collectively feel better about themselves after issuing a toothless edict that is more a dress code for an Appleby’s server than a school uniform policy.

And in doing so they have over-complicated an issue that could have benefited from a more surgically precise antidote.

Now, I don’t have a dog in the fight (or a kid in public school, for that matter) but I do know something about this issue.  I was educated in parochial schools where uniforms are de rigueur and help reinforce the homogeneous and conformist nature of private education.  In fact, I wore a uniform each year in elementary school (which included a tie) and was required to wear a blazer and necktie during my first year of high school.  (As a result, I can most often be found in a “preppy” pink oxford cloth shirt, shorts that look like they were constructed of upholstery fabric, and the ubiquitous Sperry Top-Siders. . . tassel knots and white soles only, please.)

My strange “Kmart meets Murray’s Toggery Shop” style aside, I’m none the worse for the experience, and most of my classmates are now relatively successful and well-adjusted adults who don’t appear to have suffered from the lack of individuality and “self-expression” in dress that some feel is all-important to the academic and social development of elementary school students.

Under the new policy, beginning next year students will be required to wear: “A white-knit polo-style or Oxford-style shirt; a principal may designate up to two additional colors.  A wide-range of bottoms. Navy blue, black or tan-colored pants, shorts, capris, skirts, skorts or jumpers, and blue or black denim.  If you’re an elementary or middle school student, you must wear closed-toe shoes. High school students can also wear sandals.  Fastened belt if there are belt loops.”

Our friends at Mirriam-Webster define “Uniform” as “Not varying or changing: staying the same at all times, in all places, or for all parts or members.”

In my opinion, if you are going to implement dress standardization then go all in or don’t go at all.

Under this ambiguous new policy, our teachers and school administrators are now forced into the unenviable role of fashion police – a weird combination of Joan Rivers and Jaime Escalante – tasked with both forming impressionable young minds while determining if Johnny’s shirt meets the definition of “Oxford-style” (button down or loose collar points?) or if Sally’s ‘skorts’ are uniform tan or offending ocher?

Not to mention the fact that our intrepid leaders forgot to add a penalty provision to their sartorial statute, which never works out well, regardless of what’s being regulated.

There are many benefits to a uniform policy – just as there are many arguments why legislating personal dress is a bad idea.  Given the fact that many modern public schools look more like a prison yard than a place of education and self-discovery, perhaps a forced “sameness” would have been a step in the right direction, however; I’m not sure what happened at Tuesday’s School Board meeting serves either side of the argument.

In a far less contentious (but incredibly telling) move, the School Board also voted to abandon the long-standing “pass to play” academic requirements for student athletes.

I have a problem with that.

Unbeknownst to me – but in keeping with a nation-wide trend of “dumbing-down” the process – Volusia was the last remaining county in the State of Florida to hold students who participate in organized sports accountable for maintaining passing grades.  Really?

I’m just spit-balling here, but could it be that we put too much emphasis on high school athletics and less on the important business of educating and developing functional, skilled and contributing members of society?

Competitive sports are important, I get that.  But is the education of our children still the primary mission?

When did raising the bar become a bad idea?

Unfortunately, it appears that Volusia County is simply following a disturbing “if everyone wins, no one loses” philosophy that dominates all levels of our educational system.

In her excellent Op/Ed addressing the trend, Washington Post columnist Catharine Rampell discusses the results of a recent report on grade inflation compiled by former Duke University professor Stuart Rojstaczer, and Furman professor Chris Healy.

According to Ms. Rampell:

“Analyzing 70 years of transcript records from more than 400 schools, the researchers found that the share of A grades has tripled, from just 15 percent of grades in 1940 to 45 percent in 2013. At private schools, A’s account for nearly a majority of grades awarded.”

“These findings raise questions not only about whether the United States has been watering down its educational standards — and hampering the ability of students to compete in the global marketplace in the process. They also lend credence to the perception that campuses leave their students coddled, pampered and unchallenged, awarding them trophies just for showing up.”

In a recent article addressing the School Board’s action, Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt quotes Board Member Dr. John Hill (a product of Volusia County Schools and practicing medical doctor) as opining, “It’s frustrating to student athletes.  The entire team suffers when one student can’t meet our standards.  It’s time to remove it.”

I don’t give a Tinker’s damn if it frustrates student athletes or not, Dr. Hill.

It’s called reality, and at the end of the day, nobody cares how far you threw a football, how fast you ran a footrace, or your prowess on the soccer pitch.  What matters is whether or not you are adequately prepared for the gut wrenching realities of earning a living and establishing your contribution potential in an increasingly competitive world.

In real life the entire team, business, government, department, agency, etc., suffers when one member either can’t or won’t meet accepted institutional standards of conduct and performance.  Societal progress requires that those responsible for upholding these standards correct or remove the offending member, rather than simply reduce or eliminate organizational canons and professional values.  The accommodation of substandard performance is corrosive – in schools and in society.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what this School Board is doing.

It is high time the Volusia County School Board understands that their sworn responsibilities begin and end with establishing quality public policy that provides our children with the best education possible.

Their duty is to uphold strong educational standards that make our next generation competitive in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics – those core competencies that will provide our students with opportunities in an increasingly difficult local, national and international job market.

In my view, the School Board can best achieve these important goals by emphasizing academic excellence above extra-curricular activities, despite the braying of high school coaches, “student athletes”, and their short-sighted parents.




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