The dangers of failing grades

This is the Education Briefing, a weekly update on the most important news in American education. Sign up here to receive this newsletter to your inbox.

Today: A wave of failures could have long-term consequences for students, and the NCAA Supreme Court ruling could pave the way for more changes to come.


Students across the country have failed classes at alarming rates during the coronavirus pandemic. In Houston, about half of high school students achieved at least an F in the fall semester of 2020, up from 35% the year before. In Dallas, five high schools had more than a quarter of students failing two or more classes this spring, up from just one school two years ago. And in Chicago, a recent story from WBEZ described very poor high school teachers anxious about the advisability of failing students.

The increase in failure scores is one of the clearest signs of how the pandemic has affected student education. Experts are particularly concerned about the impact on high school students, who no longer have much time in their academic careers to make up for learning losses.

“A year of poor grades can change a high school student’s life trajectory,” said Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research and advocacy group at the University of Washington Bothell.

“Equally important,” she added, “a fail grade means the student has not mastered the course content and will likely struggle for years to come without a lot of extra support. “

How to deal with school failure during the pandemic has been the subject of debate. Boston public schools have stopped linking grades to attendance, and some schools have stopped giving F’s, posting “incomplete” instead and giving students the opportunity to catch up on their work.

Despite this, the failure rate in basic courses among college and high school students in Boston has increased.

Experts fear that if schools don’t take major steps to re-engage struggling students, help them regain credits and restore confidence, the increase in failure scores this year could lead many to drop out of school. or reduce their chances of getting into a selective college.

Research has shown that earning an F or two in ninth grade dramatically decreases a student’s chances of graduating.

Ms Lake said it was essential for districts to give students the opportunity to resume classes or improve their grades this summer or next year.

Many people blamed failure rates on the challenges of distance learning, but students most likely struggled during the pandemic for many reasons, including financial stress and physical and mental health issues.

In Houston, for example, where schools reopened on Oct. 19 but where 60% of students stayed away, high school students who stayed online overall did a little better than students who returned in person, according to the reports. district data (although this is not the case for students in Grades 3 to 8).

President Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package included $ 129 billion for K-12 education, aimed at getting students back to school and making up for the year’s losses and half past. Districts now need to figure out how to use this aid to help high school students get back on track and convince those with weakened confidence that they can do well in school.


The Supreme Court ruled on Monday unanimously that the NCAA cannot ban relatively small education-related payments to student-athletes. Thanks in part to television rights deals, college sports generate huge revenues for universities and coaches, but not for the people who actually play it.

“The NCAA business model would be downright illegal in almost every other industry in America,” Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a scathing opinion, calling NCAA policy a textbook case of pricing and antitrust behavior. .

Our colleague Billy Witz wrote in an analysis that the ruling “provided a number of victories for those who argue that the billionaire industry should be dismantled.”

Online, varsity athletes rejoiced. “Another big step in the right direction !!!” Jordan Bohannon, basketball player at the University of Iowa, wrote on Twitter. “# NotNCAAProperty. “

Other changes may come soon. Court logic indicates that it could be open to a head-on challenge to the NCAA’s ban on allowing college athletes to earn money through their names, pictures and likenesses.

“To a certain extent, the Supreme Court decision is a bit of a side show,” Alan Blinder, who covers college sports for The Times, told The Morning. “The real change that will affect most of the athletes who play now is a week from Thursday.”

That’s when the laws of at least six states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas – will come into effect, allowing players to do things like make recommendations or monetize their money. presence on social networks.

Questions about immunization status are difficult. It’s even more difficult in a power dynamic, such as when an adult interacts with students.

One person, who wrote to The Times, is leading a group at a college where a single student has received a religious exemption from the vaccine. (The college also requires a Covid-19 vaccine.)

Group meetings are vital, said this person, and Zoom is not a good substitute. But many people are uncomfortable reuniting with someone who is not vaccinated.

“How can we have group functions and not exclude an unvaccinated person? they wondered.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, who writes on ethics for The Times, responded. The vaccinated majority do not need to make changes that pose a serious and otherwise unnecessary burden, he writes.

“People are free to refuse vaccination for religious reasons,” Kwame writes, “but they may have to face the consequences. “

And an unrelated piece of advice: if your child is being bullied, you can recognize it.

“Start with something simple, like, ‘Did you hear what that kid said when we walked in? It was really nasty, ”suggested Philip Galanes, who writes about tough social situations for The Times.

“So stop,” he continued, addressing a worried reader. “Your son will let you know, in words or in body language, if he wants to discuss it. “

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