A Redistributed Pie Shrinks, A Selfish One Grows

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.

12 thoughts on “A Redistributed Pie Shrinks, A Selfish One Grows

  1. Rolf; to complete the analogy, the teachers and administration would be constantly fomenting resentment against the high achieving students, with a combination of degrading rhetoric and collusion. Any and all school building maintenance problems would be blamed on the high achieving students. Any and all bad behavior from the poor performing students would be blamed on the high achievers. All the poor achievers would blame their poor performance on the high achievers. The high achievers would come to be thought of as draining knowledge out of the brains of the poor achievers, out of greed and hate. Poor achievers would occasionally be found outside the homes of the high achievers, protesting against them as they try to study, occasionally throwing Molotov cocktails through their windows while chanting slogans of hate and blame for any and all problems, real or imagined. Francis Scott-Piven, Nancy Pelosi and Van Jones would refer to the protesters as the best of America, and the teachers would always show preference for them, inciting them, while never providing an environment in class conducive to learning. Certain poor performing students would be singled out as more important than the others, with higher grade point distribution to them, and they’d fail even more as a result.

    Stuff like that cannot be overlooked, as it is a major part of our redistributionist society. You have to hate the people you are robbing, those on the receiving end of the redistribution must hate those on the “giving” end, and when those on the “giving” end protest you have to hate them all the more. Eventually you have to drive out all the best performers, by any means necessary, such that you end up with no grade point system at all. Top down, bottom up, inside out. Collapse the system into a new system. The monkeys take over and destroy the school, thus “freeing” themselves from the “system” entirely.

    Freedom from good, to do bad.

    That’s the end goal. All the nice-sounding rationalizations along the way are just part of the ruse needed to degrade the system to a point where it can be overrun entirely.

    Until we understand this, we are participating in the ruse, arguing with our enemies (engaging their idiotic assertions, thus granting them credence) to our enemies’ advantage. You invite the twisted fool to your round table and you’re uplifting him to your status. You’re showing his mesmerized followers that he is powerful, thus cementing his influence.

  2. Even worse is random chance.
    True story
    Adv Physical Chem class req’d for engineering/hard sciences & med school

    Prof determined end of year grades by writing names on index cards, marking random stairway steps A,B,C,etc and throwing the cards down the stairs. I caught him. The dept response was he’s a fully tenured prof, he can grade anyway he wants.

  3. Fine post. The Adversary rarely shows up here, so I’ll try to give him voice:

    This is all quite clever, but it comes from a unquestioned assumptions of privilege, competition, hierarchy, and non-interdependence.

    Your ‘A’ student likely comes from a healthy home. Books are available and he is encouraged to read. Two parents are present. They were both successful in the educational system and can model successful behavior. Their economic success means they don’t have work two jobs and/or part-time work that stretches into non-school hours, so they are available to encourage and assist with after-school learning.

    Your ‘F’ student has none of these advantages. Her single mother struggles to provide basic necessities, having grown up with similar disadvantages. Your regressive grading system reinforces a message that she was born to fail.

    A progressive grading system works to correct this social injustice. It teaches the students that they are all in this together. The ‘A’ student learns that if he helps the ‘F’ student, then both benefit. If the ‘A’ student won’t do that on his own, then he is penalized. He hasn’t learned an important lesson about helping others. The ‘A’ student’s parents learn that they are not investing enough in the school to help _all_ the students. The ‘F’ student’s mother is assured that the school is working for fairness for her daughter. These learnings move us towards social justice and strengthen the social contract. These goals are worth short term sacrifice by the privileged.

    “Every man for himself leads to chaos and misery. By working with and for our fellow human beings, we elevate the human condition.

    Your rhetoric can work with someone who doesn’t share all the Adversary’s attitudes and beliefs. The question is: What will it take to make it stick despite the Adversary’s dialectical response? If it doesn’t stick in total, and the audience winds up with a synthesis of the two, what is the next step to move them further in your direction?

  4. Sean – you (well, you as a Devil’s Advocate of the Left) are trying to have it both ways. On one hand, you want to celebrate diversity and let no one culture claim superiority over another. Then, on the other hand, you want to force everyone into a one-size-fits-all, standardized, homogenized, largely liberal non-competitive monoculture of K-12 public school, ostensibly to enable them to become thoughtful, productive adults.

    In order to enforce an equitable outcome measurement by YOUR standards (without regard to the wishes of the students or their parents) on a one-dimensional measurement of success in YOUR system, you want to handicap kids for already having the very advantages (which you ADMIT to being advantages) you seek to impart to everyone if they would only do as you ask! You are taking from them the very products which those parental advantages offer to the student, even though those advantages are the very ones you hope you students gain and pass on to their children.

    Not all systems work equally well, just like not all economic system work equally well, or teaching systems work equally well. And yet you’d take the product of the best systems, tear them apart, hand them out to other less efficient systems, and try to tell people who are doing things destine to not work “just keep it up, because your grades were as good as those other guys!”

    Rather than celebrate success in the very situation you claiming to desire success in you reward those that make the least effort to do as you ask and emulate the very things you point to as resulting in success! Maybe you should push the advantages of marriage to a good spouse before having children, reading to your children, having a stable financial situation before starting a family, rather than take from those that have those advantages. Rather than help them feel good while crippling their spirit, why not help them succeed in the competitive free market, which bring more comforts, goods, and services to the poor than all the socialist redistributive nations of the world combine?

    By all means, encourage good students to help weaker students, and reward them for it. But if you expect that most of them will do it on their own, or do it more when they are punished for the (in)actions of others, then you have so little understanding of human history and psychology that you should not be allowed in the classroom.

  5. Joe in Reno, I wonder if the proper response would have been to throw the professor down the stairs and see what grade he lands on. I bet it’s an F.

    This is what passes for higher learning? Yikes, no thanks. Time to end the tenure system and have these idiots put up or shut up like the rest of us.

  6. To tweak Sean’s argument a bit: The F student is bilingual. The A student is not. How does that change things?

  7. As always, we are talking about the difference between an authoritarian, coercive, pressure and intimidation based system verses liberty. Now; do we really need to analyse the minutiae of the the results of one verses the other, or should we simply reject force, intimidation and coercion because they are bad, and advocate liberty simply because it is good?

    I believe that once we get into the minutiae, entertaining the force based system, we have fallen for the ruse. We’ve invited the enemy to our roundtable and thereby elevated its status.

  8. Lyle – true. Unless you are facing someone who doesn’t have any clue about the value of freedom or the vileness of the coercion of government force in hisotry; then it’s an irrelevancy.

    Ubu – You are implying that knowing more (a second language) is detrimental to learning more. IF a person knows two or more languages, that additional knowledge CAN be leverage to help in all other subjects, IF one is so inclined. If anything, it would argue for nothing more than even strong primary language education. OTOH, if being new to the language in which the teaching is done is used as an excuse to fail (perhaps at everything), rather than an opportunity to work harder and learn even more, and learn the new language even better so that it isn’t a handicap, then giving them points to help their GPA CAN’T help them any, and hurts the person losing them. It’s a lose-lose. I.e., that’s a cop-out, nothing more than an excuse to fail.

  9. Rolf,

    I was actually wondering if anyone in flyover country would see the positives of being bilingual.

    Do schools in Idaho offer dual or two way language immersion classes? Are you familiar with them?

  10. ubub52,
    I’ve read your miserable liberal pap and, despite the gorge rising in my throat, managed to hold my tongue. No more.
    “Flyover country”? Are you marginalizing me because of where I live (by way of military service, no less)? Are you generalizing me, and my beliefs, simply because I don’t live in one of your coastal liberal enclaves? Please, do tell what it means to live in flyover country. I look forward to your, no doubt, highly informed generalizations that somehow lump together the thoughts and feelings of people living outside of your bastions of progressive enlightenment. Oh, for extra credit you can try to defend a viewpoint wholly ignorant of the concept that any one of us can be on either one of the coasts in three hours or less thanks to the marvels of modern aviation.
    More importantly, does my zip code somehow make me incapable of understanding what it is to be bilingual? Have you… I’d say perhaps but you’ve already done it… disregarded that more than a few of us poor deviled denizens of the hinterlands are ourselves bilingual?
    Actually, don’t worry about any of my admittedly rhetorical questions. You tell us, what do the schools serving .005% of Americans have to say about two way language immersion classes? Are YOU familiar with them?
    I thought not.

    Go fuck yourself,

  11. Ubu – Not familiar with ID schools. I’m assuming Joe would know. My experience is that pretty much everyone sees advantages in being bi-, tri-, or multilingual, except when it’s used as an excuse “I don’t know it well enough, whine, whine, whine” to learn the language that the financial / cultural / ethnic majority use.

    Those in fly-over country often take foreign language in HS (though it should be starting in kindergarten), and if taught well they use it to better understand English. I’ve learned a lot about English from my small study of Greek and Latin, and a smidgen of German. I find it amazing how many people find some of the stuff in books like “the unfolding of language” by Guy Deutscher as interesting, because it sheds light on how people think as much as how they communicate.

    The folks in coastal AND flyover parts of the nation that live here and refuse to embrace the language, rules, or culture of the nation they moved to that irk me; bring some of the good parts of your own, that’s fine, but denigrate the best parts of ours while bringing the toxic parts of your own? Not so much.

    J – Be polite. He’s a troll, mostly, who want’s to make you angry. But he does, on very rare occasions, ask a good question or make a good point.

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