Assumption: People change their behavior when the perceived incentives (cost and/or benefits) change.
Assumption: The world is not a zero-sum game.
Any arguments or dispute? No? Ok, then, a thought experiment.
A typical grading curve in school is 90% A, 80% B, 70% C, 60% D, less than 60% fails, where there are many standard point-earning opportunities, and occasional “extra-point” opportunities, where each person earns their own scores. Maybe everyone aces an easy class with all 90%+, maybe a herd of sluggards all fail. Any number of points might be earned in total.
Tell a classroom full of kids that the grading curve is to be changed. In order to help out the GPA of struggling students, points will be redistributed. After each test, project, or paper, any points above a grade cut-off will be shaved off as “extra” and re-distributed to the lowest scoring student. When the lowest scoring student has been brought to the level of the next-lowest student, then the points are shared between them, because they are both the neediest at the bottom. No “extra” points can be “banked” against future mistakes. If not everyone is brought up to passing by this method when just extracting “extra A” points, then more points will be extracted from the scores at the top, and the 80%-90% scores will get cut to 80%, and all the extra points re-distributed to those in need of points to pass. If some are still failing, then all the now-B students will get knocked down to C’s, and those points re-distributed. Etc.
Question: with the changes in incentives, how will students change their behaviors?
Some will keep doing what they are doing, because that is just who they are, and they want to learn regardless of grade. Likely it will not be many. Many near the top will see all their extra points being sucked away, and they will stop trying to earn more than 90%; indeed, I’d expect a competition to see who can come closest to 90% most often without going under. Those at the bottom will work even less, knowing they will be given some extra help, so they will need more points than ever. Those in the middle will get frustrated, because they are not doing well, but they are not getting any help, because it’s all going to those at the bottom, who are not helped in the end because there are not enough points to bring a dozen zeros up to 60% and passing. The total number of student points, reflecting the growing knowledge of the students in the class (at least in theory), will shrink. The number of people passing will shrink. The attitude toward the subject and teacher will deteriorate. In the end, a few will still be trying because they know it’s the right thing to do, but it will not be anywhere near enough to help out the grade situation, so learning halts, because no new teaching can start until a passing grade on existing material in achieved.Classroom average GPA will head to zero.
Compare that to progressive taxation, welfare, the economy, and government.
For those on the left that don’t get it, allow me to spell it out. The formerly high-scoring students grow too actively resent the low-scoring ones because they are dragging the high scores down. The failing students actively dislike the strong students because they COULD be working harder to earn more points to pass around, but aren’t. Those in the middle can’t help those at the top OR bottom, but get caught in the middle and accused of being “other” by both sides. It’s a toxic brew that sows discord, hatred, envy, and sloth. It destroys the incentives to succeed, shrinks the point-and-learning pie, and hurts everyone, regardless of the stated intention to help those in most need of a GPA boost, because it fails to recognize that GPA isn’t the GOAL, it’s a BYPRODUCT of the goal, learning. The goal of the government should not be to get everyone to a particular level of income & benefits, it is to provide place, laws, and opportunities for a person to be able to do that on their own.
On the other hand, change the grading system so that failure to earn a passing grade means you cannot get a free lunch, and continuing failure jeopardizes your families’ voting rights or welfare checks or eligibility for other government assistance or jobs. Failing has real, painful, consequences. Helping a struggling student to pass earns you extra opportunities, or classes, or money. Getting high grades in difficult or high-demand classes can earn college / trade-school tuition money or even a cash graduation bonus. Doing well for yourself has solid, immediate benefits. People can take as many classes as they want, and earn unlimited points or cash, and it’s not being taken from the low-performing students.
Which would return better long-term results?
Yes, I know this isn’t a new concept. It seemed like a good way to give a concrete example of how my basic assumptions and principles about people and how the world works, and perhaps shed light on the folly of current programs, and suggest a more sensible approach.