No Honor in Needham

by Sal on December 13, 2006

in Politics

Michael Graham, talk show host at 96.9 FM Talk over at The Natural Truth blog has been talking about a news story out of the Needham, MA school department.  The Principle of Needham High School, Paul Richards, has decided that the names of Honor Roll students will no longer be published in the local paper because it will make people who didn’t make the honor roll feel bad.  Richards, who claims to be concerned about student’s stress, commented that “The Publishing of an honor roll has been identified as a potential contributor to the focus on grades.” 

I have written several times before regarding problems in the educational system, as well as how the public schools push a secularist world-view, but this story strikes me as a very unfortunate development from an otherwise well-regarded public school district in Needham.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I am close friends with a very dedicated and enthusiastic school librarian who happens to work for the Needham School System, albeit grade school, who is a frequent contributor to this board and is a credit to her profession.)  This decision hurts those who are academically successful and does not teach the real-world lesson of measured success.  It is all well and good to try to make learning the primary objective, but in high school, you need to prepare for college and for a career.  In most professions, results matter.  A sales person who is in the top tier in generating revenue from a company will be rewarded, as will a student with the highest grades applying for a college.  Telling students that grades are unimportant does them a disservice, because measurements matter.  Sure, learning for learning’s sake is a great objective and should be a goal of any educational institution.  However, education has a societal duty to prepare children and young adults for entrance into the American economy and society in general. 

Thinking back to my own high school career, if grades had not been important, I may not have tried as hard.  Learning French or Chemistry were not two things that I found very appealing, and really had no interest in learning those subjects (History, English, Computer Science, and Religion class were another matter; those I thoroughly enjoyed).  What kept me motivated in the classes that I didn’t care for was grades, the possibility of not making the honor roll, and how it would affect my entrance into college.  If I was taught that grades did not matter, I probably would have completely tuned out of those classes.  Even though Richards is not going so far as to say that grades don’t matter, this move is certainly pointing in that direction.   

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Cannon December 13, 2006 at 9:53 am

Also, this principal apparently misses the mark when says that a little blurp at the bottom of page 8 in the local paper fosters “the focus on grades.” My guess is that your success in high school (or anything else’s) was not merely to see your name in print. A student’s focus on grades is probably more the result of (a) pressure from parents, and (b) a desire to go to a decent college and/or get a good job. This is just another typically-ridiculous display of so-called sensitivity that accomplishes nothing except points us in the wrong direction.


msally (salinger's little sis) December 13, 2006 at 11:01 am

“if grades had not been important, I may not have tried as hard”. LOL.


Sal December 13, 2006 at 11:11 am

And what is that supposed to mean? :)


Ryan December 13, 2006 at 1:02 pm

As a teacher, I think that grades are obviously a critical measure of a student’s progress. I post student grades, only leaving their stu. #s up rather than their names, but the entire class can get a gauge of how the class is doing and how they measure up. I think this is vital. School prepares kids for life, which includes work! Better work, higher raise. They understand cold $.

But a school needs to encourage this. A culture of healthy competition is good and fundamentally “American”. That’s what we have special ed for– so that those who cannot compete on a fair playing field to have adaptations in concert with their needs. Not posting honor roll is like turning the whole school a center for politically correct lazy special ed kids. Not in my town!


Chris December 13, 2006 at 1:16 pm

As an educator, I feel the need to respond. I agree, Sal, with your assessment. This principal is doing his students and his teachers a disservice. You make a lot of excellent points on how this decision will negatively affect the students’ adult lives. Another thing, Sal, if the principal follows through with this request, he makes his teachers’ jobs much harder in that he is taking the achievement/rewards system out of the school’s culture, negatively affecting the school culture and preventing the teacher from taking the students to the next level in getting them to learn the higher level thinking skills so necessary for success in the professional world.

Cannon, you also make some good points about what drives a student to succeed, but don’t forget, there are some students who are self-driven. I know it’s, sadly, a minority, but they do exist.

No surprise here, I do believe in the rewards system. The students should be honored with the newspaper article for their hard work…it is a small act of gratitude by the school (for submitting the press release) for keeping the academic quality of the school high.

To address the principal’s apprehensions about competition and stress…it’s the way of the world. As a teacher, I want my students to succeed, I ask a lot of them, I reward them for their hard work, but at the same time, I work to make my classroom a cooperative atmosphere and I also make for stong teacher-student lines of communication and relationships. If students do fall under stress, it is the teachers’ job to teach them how to deal through channeling, time manaagement, stress management, or even just listening to them vent.

I find this dumbbing down of American education disgraceful and believe it will negatively affect our society as a whole if it continues.


Jewels December 13, 2006 at 5:51 pm

I find this a very interesting post. (Thank you for your very kind words, Sal.) Yes, I may be biased, but I believe Needham is a wonderful school system. The expectations are extremely high for STAFF and STUDENTS. Many of the students from Needham come from homes where both of the parents are highly successful. This is a good thing. However, there is a LOT of pressure for many kids to do well. We want our children to do well and be the best they can be. However, I have had a child write to me that he is worried about getting into a good college as a concern in fourth grade. As an educator, I want my students to understand what I am teaching, do well, work hard, and enjoy learning for the sake of learning. I’m not really against students’ names being published in the paper for academic achievement (although I know that there has been a concern about kids who feel extremely pressured with the high rate of suicides at Needham High School), but I think we need to be focused on getting kids (and ADULTS!) to be intrinsically motivated. At Needham High School, there is a tool called PowerSchool which allows teachers to post students’ grades right away (after correcting papers, etc.). Only the individual student and parent have access to the individual’s page (except for the teacher). I have heard through teachers that the kids at the high school are constantly on their pages (even more than the parents). We need to foster a culture where students do well, work hard, and care about their grades. However, we cannot cultivate grade grubbing. (I’m not saying that the newspaper article will do that, but I think our society has become obsessed with extrinsic rewards and motivation.) Yes, I want my students to do well. Yes, I want my students to achieve and to be recognized for academic achievement. However, fifty years from now, students will remember how we treated them and sparked an enthusiasm for learning inside of them. That is what we should be talking about today…


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