Students & Parents | General Education

Failing grades indict general education system

KENTUCKY KERNEL   |  August 30, 2009 by Editorial

Students are constantly being graded to assess their performance. Just about every measureable quality, no matter how minute, is weighted and factored into a letter grade intended to objectively represent a student’s total input in a class. And no matter how clear the syllabus and course requirements are, students are usually unhappy when they don’t receive “A’s.”

What happens when the tables are flipped and the very learning institutions responsible for grading students are graded themselves?

In the report “What Will They Learn?” the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, an independent, non-profit organization, judged the universities on their curriculum’s performance. UK earned the grade of a solid “C.”

Out of 100 universities surveyed, only five received an “A” in this study. Even more surprising was the fact that only two out of 100 universities met the organization’s economics requirement: the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and the United States Military Academy (West Point).

Apparently the American Council of Trustees and Alumni never heard of grading on a curve.

Before we get all riled up, it has to be noted that of UK’s benchmark schools, only four finished above UK. So there isn’t a clear indication that UK is way behind where they want to be.

“To get an ‘A’ in this study is like winning a championship in a tournament that doesn’t keep score,” Student Government President Ryan Smith said according to a Kernel article.

While the council seems to have come up with a test that is almost virtually impossible to pass, it seems there is a deeper reasoning behind it all.

The reports seems to be less of an indictment on UK and other universities of its ilk, and more of a statement to the educational system, as the American Council of Trustees and Alumni specializes in assessing the curriculum of the universities in seven subjects: English composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics and science. With prestigious and expensive universities, ranging from private instutions like Yale and Brown, to public instutions like the University of California-Berkley and the University of Michigan, receiving failing grades, it’s pretty clear there is a flaw in the system, which lies in general education.

According to the report, “no matter how good individual majors are, if our colleges don’t get general education right, students will get a spotty education that will not prepare them for a life well lived.”

Equipping students to adapt and critically think may seem to be the overall success measure of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which leaves UK in an interesting position for improvement. According to the study, quality of education may not necessarily equal a costly education.

Not only can UK improve its quality, and at cost below some of the pricey universities, it can be a leader in focusing on the broad academic experience. Being a benchmark for success is never a bad idea.


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