Bogus grades, fraudulent wine: On our Amtrak-enabled sojourn to Maine, we learned an array of valuable lessons. Among them:
You can’t convince a 2-year-old that fireworks are actually fun.
Also, a bit more complicatedly:
If an 8-year-old is actually funny, and if she can do an array of voices, she’ll hear your laughter as a request that her program continue for hours.
The next day, she’ll be doing her impression of a blues singer from a raft in a swimming pool! As her Uncle Brendan asked at one point, “Where do they get this stuff?”
He was live and direct from Dublin. Though we had the very same question!
For these and other reasons, we won't resume our normal perusals until tomorrow. This morning, though, we were struck by a pair of reports in the New York Times.
One concerned the grading system at Princeton, a top university. At the start of her report, Ariel Kaminer outlined the nagging problem which has bedeviled the Old Nassau crowd:
KAMINER (8/8/14): Princeton Considers End to Limit on Number of A’sIn short, Princeton adopted a policy designed to “thwart grade inflation.” At the time, the university didn’t seem to realize that its program might also thwart accurate grading.
Princeton University may soon end the policy that limited the number of students who received A’s for their course marks, an approach designed to thwart grade inflation but one that many students cited as the worst part of their Princeton experience.
The current guidelines seek to limit A-range grades to at most 35 percent of the students in each course. The new approach, which the university president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, endorsed in a memorandum on Thursday, would instead encourage individual academic departments to set their own grading standards.
If adopted by the faculty in the fall term, the approach would represent a major shift for the university, which drew widespread attention in 2004 when it first sought to cap grades. At the time, close to 50 percent of Princeton students were getting A-range grades in their classes.
We were struck by Princeton’s original problem. At Princeton, it was believed that too many students were getting credit for doing A-level work! This contrasted with the problem in our public schools, where it’s believed that too few students are doing “proficient” work.
In each case, the standards applied are highly subjective. At Princeton, though, action was taken, in the form of a “35 percent solution.”
This produced many complaints, and turmoil among the students.
Last year, President Eisgruber decided to tackle the problem head-on. Kaminer reports the outcome:
KAMINER: The proposal to abandon the policy came from a committee convened by Mr. Eisgruber last fall, during his first year on the job. Its report, also released on Thursday, says that numerical targets “are too often misinterpreted as quotas.”If the new proposals are accepted, students will no longer feel “that they are competing for a limited resource of grades.”
“They add a large element of stress to students’ lives, making them feel as though they are competing for a limited resource of grades,” it said, adding that a better approach would be “grading standards developed and articulated by each department.”
After graduation, of course, they’ll find themselves competing for a limited number of hedge fund jobs. Whatever!
Kaminer’s report includes many points of interest, including one (rejected) proposal that Princeton should deliberately inflate its students’ grades. One professor is quoted making a sound mathematical point—it’s hard to apply a 35 percent rule to a seminar with only five students.
As we often note, the professors have tended to sit out our public debates over the past twenty years. If they’re tied up on campus with problems like this, their silence can be understood.
On the same page of this morning's Times, we found a news report about Rudy Kurniawan, a rare wine dealer who has been “defrauding” his high-end clients. We were puzzled by the treatment of this great non-American, who was in the country without authorization as he provided this service.
Kurniawan would mix a batch of swill, then tell his billionaire clients that it was a rare wine. Technically, this claim was almost certainly true. And a Koch brother was involved!
In fairness to his billionaire clients, someone apparently figured out that he was paying big money for rotgut. Here’s the puzzling part of the story:
Rather than treat him as a national treasure, federal prosecutors have convicted this saintly man of a crime!
Tomorrow: Back to the vineyards
All next week: Some cable issues
Starting August 18: Our long-awaited, award-winning series, The Houses of Journalist County