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September 9, 2003

Back To Square One! So Much For Progress!

Alan Imhoff

The Board of Education has done it again with what could become the elusive "D" letter grade.

I am reminded of a short little ditty from the movie and book, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, Chapter 12, that I have taken the liberty to paraphrase that goes like this:

We seek the "D" here, we seek the "D" there,

Those educators seek the "D" everywhere.

Is it in heaven?-Is it in hell?

That dammed, elusive letter "D"?

I know it doesn't rhyme like the original text and doesn't have quite the slight whimsical cadence delivered by Leslie Howard in the movie, but this wonderful exercise created by the Board of Education is strongly reminiscent of the "now you see him, now you don't" byline for the main character.

If we as parents, educators and students agreed a year ago to do away the letter "D" after much public debate, why was everyone blind-sided by this hasty decision just before the start of school.

I believe many parents subscribed to the original reasoning to eliminate the letter grade of "D" in what appeared to be a sincere attempt to "raise the bar" for all students. Educators made a valiant effort to revise their lesson plans, provide mentoring, and, where needed, tutoring to help those students achieve their potential.

From what I have heard recently, there were many more success stories than "F's" given out. Prospects for this year were encouraging. Now it seems we are back to where we were, so much for progress.

As a personal aside, I graduated from a public high school (an inner city school at that) where 70 or better was required and somehow we graduates managed. By the way, the school is still in existence and has provided graduates in Baltimore City for over 100 years. So much for the current "trend" in education.

In what seems to me the beginning of what an elected board of education really means, this board has manifested itself in a totally unexpected reversal of a carefully made decision for a hasty one.

Could it be that as the board members near the coming primary election this March - yes, folks, it is that time again to select six "non-partisan" individuals to languish during the eight-month campaign to elect three to the Board in November 2004 - that "posturing" has begun?

Since this is "non-partisan," I cannot call it "political" just "posturing".

It is about as long a time frame from today to the Primary Election in March as it is from the primary to the General Election in November. So why don't we as voters, and not as parents, make this one of the issues the candidates need to discuss.

You may be thinking by now I am a little jaded on this topic and you would be right. For over 10 years I have been very active with PTA and in volunteering my time to numerous committees and task forces with Frederick County Public Schools. I believe very strongly in providing a good education for every student, for every year they are in school. I am just getting a little tired of fighting the same battles over and over again.

To "D" or not to "D", that is the question. (Paraphrase from Shakespeare's Hamlet) Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the public forums and meetings of outrageous bureaucracies, or to take arms against the sea of grades and by opposing end them?

My apologies, Will!

All manner of spurious arguments will be used to obfuscate this decision to revert back to an oppressive grading system that includes the "D" grade by those uncomfortable with the tough decisions needed to raise the bar of public education here in Frederick County.

If we expect the best, we should challenge each student to achieve their best. That does not mean each student's best is equal to one another.

What is does mean is that the public schools give each individual the best education they can achieve to be a productive and participatory member of our community. Achieve the ability to read and write at a 12th grade level, the ability to have sufficient math skills to balance a checkbook, prepare a home budget and understand financing their car or maybe even make change without the aid of a computer.

If the student can go beyond that basic ability, all the better. We need to reward achievement and discourage the "I'll slide by syndrome." One of the ways to do that is to eliminate the "D" grade. Business and colleges expect nothing less. You either do the work or you start looking somewhere else. We are not talking philosophy here, we are talking real world.

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