A news story broke recently that made its away across the country. At first glance, I couldn’t believe it. My guess is—many of you heard about it.
A Florida teacher was fired for refusing to comply with the school’s “No Zero” policy. This means, the school administration has created a rule that even if a student fails to turn any assignment in, he or she still cannot receive a “0” for the assignment. They will get a 50% grade. In short, they should get half credit for doing nothing.
What? Is this true?
Yes, it is. In fact, Mrs. Tirado wrote a note on her classroom white board upon her termination that simply said:
My guess is—this school came up with the policy for the same reasons that many similar policies are created: they don’t want to face angry parents. I can’t see how any administrators could have invented such a hollow rule as this unless parents drove them to do it. When I went to school, if you handed everything in, you had the chance at getting an “A” but there was no guarantee. Your work had to excel. If you turned half your work in, you got half of what you earned for what you turned in. And—if you handed in nothing, you got nothing. That exchange is fair and reasonable. But parents today can be unreasonable. They confront teachers for acting harshly with their child; they advocate for their misbehaving child; they even do homework for their children. I have entered many a Starbucks and seen parents working on 8th grade homework. My guess is—some intimidating parents bullied the Florida school into such a policy.
What are we thinking?
What Message Is This Sending?
Please patronize me for a moment. Consider the message we send to students when we create policies like this. Students quickly conclude:
- They can literally do no work at all, and get some credit.
- The school will acquiesce to parents who bully them.
- They can expect the same treatment as an adult—something for nothing.
Let’s ponder that final one. Does this grading policy resemble anything remotely like the world they will enter as an adult? Fast forward with me into the future. A recent graduate enters the workforce, with this grading policy as a backdrop. Her supervisor gives her an assignment and a deadline. It’s part of a bigger project that several team members are collaborating on. They’re depending on her. When the deadline hits, this young professional fails to get anything done. (She’s been busy posting on Instagram.) Not only does the entire team fall behind, they become resentful and disassociate with her. Gossip spreads about her. She feels bullied and calls mom or dad. Soon, parents are involved with their adult-child’s workplace—arguing that she can’t take this kind of treatment. Only, this time, there is no policy like the one she had in school. The company actually gives zeroes. And pink slips. Suddenly this young female is unemployed and blaming those “mean people” at that company. It’s a false narrative, fostered by shortsighted parenting and poor leadership during her childhood and adolescence.
Fast forward, now, into another scenario, painted by this same pitiful school rule. If a student gets a 50% grade for doing nothing, do they get 100% if they do half the assignment? And if they do the whole assignment, do they get 150%? Will they expect special rewards from a supervisor when they only did what was expected?
Mrs. Tirado agrees: “I’m used to kids not handing in their work…and then chasing them until report cards are in to make sure they make it up. But I don’t give a grade for nothing.” She then concluded, “We’re creating monsters out of our children. We give them too much…and people that experience that kind of childhood then that’s what you want, you’re entitled for the rest of your life.”
My Challenge For You
I have a challenge for parents and educators: please meet as each new semester begins, and then follow that meeting up with a summary of your topic. Use this story as an illustration of short-sighted leadership on the part of parents and schools. Communicate that your leadership (in contrast) keeps the long-term view in mind—and you’re committed to preparing kids for future possibilities, not just protecting them from present difficulties. Graduates are strong not fragile in the end.
While I am sure the parents and administrators have some kind of logic for their “no zero policy,” it just doesn’t hold water if the purpose of school, as Horace Mann said it was, is to prepare kids for the norms of society.
We just may be getting a failing grade ourselves.
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