QPS Considers Dropping Valedictorian Honors. That’s A Good Thing
An interesting news story came across my
desk Facebook feed recently, one that sparked quite the interesting debate on the internets. It wasn't until later that day when I was chatting with a couple of teacher friends that the situation fully got put into perspective for me. I'm speaking of course, of what the headline of this page is. That Quincy Public Schools is considering dropping Valedictorian and Salutatorian honors, which is drawing some sharp criticism.
The biggest criticism seems to be that it's removing recognition of high achievement among students. Though interestingly, this isn't the case, as they'd be dropping the valedictorian and salutatorian honors in favor of recognizing a wider range of high achieving students with the magna cum laude and summa cum laude honors that many colleges and universities currently use.
Fortunately, the issue isn't whether or not we're properly recognizing high achieving students (which QPS would still be doing), the issue QPS is addressing is the education of these students, and the Valedictorian and Salutatorian honors are legit jeopardizing that.
Are these students taking tough courses, AP courses, the types of courses that will push them beyond the standard 4.0 GPA to the 4.1, 4.6, 4.8, 4.82, 4.823, 4.824 GPAs? Yes, yes they are. And no one is criticizing the quality of those classes. But what I learned in my conversation with the two teacher friends (who will go unnamed), is that some students are ignoring arts courses. They're ignoring courses that would benefit them in the long run for their prospective career paths.
Let's say there's a kid who's entertaining the notion of a psychology career. She's looking at that to be her focus in college. The school offers an intro to psychology course. But that course's grades aren't weighted the same as say AP Statistics, which would give her an edge in the Valedictorian race. So she never takes that intro to psychology. Long term, it would be much better for this hypothetical student (and I can't stress the hypothetical enough, this is not a real student) to take that intro to psychology course. So maybe she can get an edge on her college education. Or maybe she can find out then that Psychology isn't her thing, before spending $20,000 a year at a university to find out it's actually botany or accounting.
Or what about an extremely gifted artist, or actor, or musician, who doesn't pursue those passions in high school, because band, theatre and art aren't weighted as strongly against the grades of AP English. Wouldn't we want to foster their talents, and let them explore their skills? Why take that from them just so they can take a slightly tougher maths class?
This isn't meant to demonize high achieving students, or demonize the AP courses. They are wonderful and certainly serve a purpose. I myself took both AP Statistics and AP English in my high school. I think it's important, and this was the point my teacher friends were making, that these kids get a well rounded education, or, more importantly, the RIGHT education for them. Rather than the education that stacks the valedictorian odds ever in their favor.
Magna cum laude and summa cum laude are still very distinct honors, still very prestigious honors. It just removes that arbitrary need to focus on the honor, in lieu of focusing on the actual education. It's like Bruce Lee said in Enter the Dragon: "Don't concentrate on the finger, or you'll miss all the heavenly glory." You focus on the endgame, you'll miss everything around you that might actually matter. Or something like that.
Not to mention, the Magna and Summa cum laude honors are nothing to laugh at. I know television producer in New Jersey who graduated summa cum laude back in 1969.