Thursday, December 14, 2006

Needham High School abandons printing honor roll.

Edumacation: Another touchy feely nonsense move by a principal who thinks he is doing the students a favor.

After criticism from Rush Limbaugh and a jab from Jay Leno, Needham High principal Paul Richards is firing back, defending his decision to stop publishing the high school student honor roll in a local newspaper. "With so much competition these days with print, TV, radio, and the Internet, this issue was easily twisted into a ‘politically-correct move to protect self-esteem,'" Richards wrote Thursday in an e-mail to the Globe. "That would sell much better than an intellectual discussion on student stress." School officials, seeking to lighten the stress load on students in a community from which four youths have committed suicide since 2004, decided last week to end the years-old practice of listing in a local newspaper who made the academic honor roll. Radio talk shows blasted Richards for coddling his students, and Jay Leno made him the butt of a joke in his Tuesday night monologue on "The Tonight Show." Limbaugh chided Richards on Wednesday for caving under parental pressure. "So one parent complained, and the school bent over backwards! They just fell, spine turned to mush," he said on his nationally syndicated radio show. Richards said he never expected that the policy would spark so much attention. "I’m shocked," Richards wrote. "This was simply an FYI to parents, until it was fed to the media by parents who disagreed with this. I had no intention of making a public stand." In light of the backlash, the principal said he hoped the story would spark debate on how schools can reduce stress among teens.
How about looking into the lives of those individual students, it wasn't the honor roll in the paper that drove them to kill themselves. Something in their lives pushed them over the edge, to turn around and not to print the honor roll is a patch on a huge problem. The explanation not to publish the honor roll is his own warped way of coddling the students.
The chief sentiment from those opposed to the decision lies in the portrayal of academic achievement in the media. I agree that too often the focus is on athletics, tragedies, and sensational news stories. Publishing the honor roll can be a counterbalance, albeit a small one, to this bias against non- academic stories and achievement. A supporting rationale for the school’s decision has been the notion that a published honor roll is stressful for students who don’t make it. However, from many conversations we’ve had with students, they appear disinterested in the issue, not caring whether the honor roll is published or not. This perspective is important to consider. I’m writing to explain that neither the opposition nor the proponent’s rationale was the primary intent of my decision. Rather, it had to do with the public nature of academic achievement that is based solely on grades and with the sorting that takes place in schools. I am very thankful to work in a community that values academic achievement. I hold teachers at Needham High School to a high standard and believe quality instruction is the greatest influence on learning. I believe there exists a strong culture centered on learning and achievement at the school. I recognize my responsibility to keep this culture in tact. It is also true, in my opinion, that this high expectations/high achievement culture has a dark side to it. Our stress survey data identifies a sub-culture among students where grades are scrutinized, argued over, compared within groups, and a contributor to a general environment of competition between peers. While any of these behaviors are not extreme when isolated, the cumulative effect can be stress inducing (and not the good kind of stress that helps us all perform, meet deadlines, and grow).
Gee, I know that won't happen in the real world working in a company or in college or in academia pursuits for those that get into that world. If the kids don't care but you go ahead because you see *horror* a culture of competition between the students, he has taken it upon himself to be nanny to try and shield them. Its not like they won't figure out who made the grade or not and contribute to rumors and false stories being made up among them. A stupid move that got called out.

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