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Monday, May 24, 2010

Grade Inflation. Cui Bono?

Cui bono- who benefits when an oral examination committee passes an education administration doctoral candidate on a really lousy dissertation? For the details of the story, see my most recent installment to this blog: On Foxes Guarding Henhouses, Part II (5/17/10). So, when a sin was committed in the temple of knowledge, who benefited and who was damaged?

Who benefited?

1. The doctoral candidate. He was already a superintendent of schools in the region served by Lehigh University. Now he had his Ed.D., would henceforth be addressed as “Doctor”, would probably have gotten a bump in salary, and might have hung on for another few years as a superintendent in his school district.

2. The education administration professors who served on the doctoral candidate’s dissertation committee. These professors make a living from consulting with, and providing in-service workshops for, school districts in the university’s region. In many cases, the fees earned from these services exceed their salaries. The collaboration on the doctoral student/superintendent’s dissertation strengthened relationships and probably left the newly minted doctor of education with a sense of gratitude to those committee members who supported his candidacy. The superintendent, of course, has a great deal of power in the awarding of consulting and in-service training contracts as quid pro quo.

3. Me. As mentioned in my recent blog installment, I needed to win the support of tenured faculty if I were to get their votes for tenure, a few years down the road. By voting to FAIL, I would have seriously alienated these senior faculty members.

4. The Dean of the School of Education and the Lehigh University administration. Most of the time, when a doctoral student gets his or her Ed.D. and goes back to regional school districts as a principal or superintendent, he or she is a living advertisement for others to apply, enroll, pay tuition, and speak well of the School of Education and The University. They also often become well-paid alumni who will send their checks to annual fund raising campaigns.

5. Architects and construction companies. School districts often have big budgets and superintendents exert strong influence on how the money is spent. As an example, much of the dissertation research that was done back in the 1970s in Lehigh’s School of Education was on the efficacy of what was known as either open concept education or schools without walls. In hindsight, this was one of the many fads that have come and gone in the field of education. Of course, many of the badly designed education dissertations in that era seemed to give support to the efficacy of schools without walls. This led directly to the modification of school buildings, especially the tearing down of walls in existing buildings and the building of new schools with no walls or moveable walls. What a nightmare for taxpayers, especially since the walls had to be restored when the next ridiculous education fad swept the nation. For my neighbor the architect, however, business really boomed, thanks to the bad dissertation research that appeared to support new designs in school buildings. The same money-making phenomenon occurred for such vendors as textbook publishers.

Who was damaged?

1. Me. I hate violating my own morals and ethics for personal gain. I feel guilty about my contribution to inflated grades and lowering standards in education. Besides, I never did get tenure because I moved on to new career adventures before it ever came to a vote.

2. Education in America. When the leaders of public and private education are mainly influenced by political and financial considerations to inflate grades, pass bad dissertations, and award unearned degrees they are entirely on thr wrong track. By failing to reward honest effort, focused study, attained knowledge, and excellent performance, they have created a monster of a problem! Superintendents and principals exert major influence on the culture of their schools, and children will usually assimilate the values of the culture. Is there any doubt about why we have an epidemic of inflated grades, declining academic skills, and social promotion to the next grade among America’s school children and university students? The supposed guardians of the schools are often foxes guarding our henhouses.

3. The United States of America. As students acquire less knowledge in our schools and universities, we are all diminished as we become less able to compete for the best jobs in the world economy, less able to recognize the best schools and then send our children to them, less aware of the important issues of the day, and less able to be effective voters, jury members, and consumers. We are further diminished as our society has increasing percentages of public assistance recipients, prison inmates, homeless people, and medically uninsured.

It appears, at this time, that the short-term benefits to individuals are more powerful forces than the long term consequences to American education and the country itself. Focused and forceful leadership is needed to reverse the self-destructive downward spiral we are in. Such leadership could best be provided by a presidential administration and the presidents of major universities, but they, too, are heavily influenced by short-term economic and political pressures. It would take, at the very least, bold and charismatic leadership that is unafraid to lose a job or lose the next election.


  1. Dissertation Help is a very useful tool so that you can easily submit your dissertation on time.

  2. Great. My blog is devoted to anti-inflationary trends in education and you advertise your website that writes theses and dissertations for those who can't clear that hurdle. How ironic!

    But, I guess this is instructive-- the pervasiveness of devices that make it easy for anybody, even if they do not possess the necessary academic skills, to earn academic degrees. Thanks for helping to prove my point.

    Stephen Stillman

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