The perils of panflation

http://www.economist.com/node/21552214

I find the data on grade inflation to be very disturbing, since I lived through an era of schooling where I witnessed it.

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LouZiffer wrote:

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>Drops hands from tented position<

...My God!

Panflation seems awesome and delicious.

I tried to read the article, I really did, but I'm just so hungry for some reason...

It's said that after World War I, panflation was so bad that German citizens had to carry around their breakfasts in wheelbarrows.

So it doesn't bother anyone that 45% of students in college receive a grade of 'A' versus 15% in 1970? Come on now, I know there's some real smart GWJers who breezed through school.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&feature=share&goback=%2Egmp_2268461%2Egde_2268461_member_107851887

My own parents have always stressed that while grades are important, they are not all-important. Ultimately, all a grade is is a way to kiss up to the system so it'll promote you to elite status. It's a job performance survey. Skill mastery and actual knowledge acquisition is more important.

Algebra was useful to me at a relatively young age because it made money management easier - a key skill when you're in the market selling baked goods for a living. The fact that I scored well on the exam was almost (but not quite) incidental.

I think that article does a good job of basically explaining modern entitlement culture with an economics wrapper. My Mom has worked in two local elementary schools (not as a teacher though) for almost 20 years and she's seen first hand how the system has evolved into one where no one's allowed to fail (or in many cases, is only allowed to fail if the parents agree) and "best effort" and "good enough" are considered A worthy instead of C worthy. You can see a similar pattern in many large companies with ridiculous titles like Chief Experience Officer which is really just another means of ego inflation. North American culture has become so obsessed with the idea that failure means people will become perpetually mired in self-doubt that they will never succeed again and it's got to stop. People need to be taught that failure is normal and commonplace and to cherish the successes you get rather than assume one failure means that's all you'll get in life.

Also, the only reason I was able to write that response was because I ate breakfast before reading this thread.

15% in 1940 got A's, bandit. The figure was pretty constant until the mid-60's, when it became clear that giving someone a poor grade could send them to Viet Nam. It started down again, bottoming at 28% or so in the mid-80's, and then started up again.

Speculation is that it's due to a "consumer focus" on secondary education. Ironically, when you turn colleges into businesses, and increasing enrollment is the way to make money, as the costs go up, rewards have to go up too. And that tells students, hey, if I'm not gonna fail, why should I study?

Another good example of the shortcomings of for-profit motivations...

Everyone calls it entitlement culture, but isn't it really about people viewing education as a credential they've purchased than as some kind of societal merit selection program they should gleefully accept the consequences of? I don't know--I wonder if these parents aren't teaching their kids the most important lesson of all for being successful in life: get what you want and don't take no for an answer. Is our education system messed up, or are we just getting the educational system that's the best fit for our culture's values of greed and shallowness?

I suppose it depends on whether you consider baby boomers, as a whole, better than or worse than millenials.

Aren't expectations going up as well? For many students, it is REALLY no longer okay to get a C, when maybe that was okay back in the day.

Seth wrote:

I suppose it depends on whether you consider baby boomers, as a whole, better than or worse than millenials. :)

Where's the clip of the song from Community?

Demyx wrote:

Aren't expectations going up as well? For many students, it is REALLY no longer okay to get a C, when maybe that was okay back in the day.

Bit of a chicken and egg thing though, right? You could say it's no longer OK to get a C because it's well known how easy As are to come by.

As somebody who works in academia (as does my partner), I go back and forth on this but I am not hugely bothered by it, as I don't think it impacts the overall success of the missions of the university: education and research.

Education: As somebody said upthread, there are trends and fads in grading and education and it's not a new phenomenon. Hell, I'm sure that if you look back far enough, there was probably no grading at all at some point. Yet the point of education remains the same: expose students to the material. That's still happening and the keen ones will still pick it up. There are enough ways to cheat the system in university that everybody knows somebody who got better grades than they deserved, but grades in university are only a useful metric in a very small (and increasingly smaller) window of your life. Those people who are truly smart, or lifelong learners, or whatever you want to call it, will on average bubble up to the top. The marginal people with mediocre cognitive skills who got that easy A may get an initial bump, but will probably languish in obscurity through their career. Or they'll go on to derivative trading and f*ck us all over. Either way, the net effect is the same: some people succeed because of their aptitudes and some fail, probably in about the same proportions as historically. We've just made one of our predictive indicators of who is who a little less exact.

Research: Knowing a lot of researchers, I feel I can say that people don't go into the career because they got an A in a class. They do it because they have a passion for something about it: either the lifestyle, or their field of study, or the thrill of discovery. And make no mistake, people who are not the best and the brightest wash out of that system in a hurry. (For the sake of clarity, I will say that I work in an academic /support/ role, I am not a professor myself.)

At the same time, research grant funding in a lot of areas is drying up right now, so the university needs some way to fund the process. Tutition is a big chunk of a university's operating budget, and we've been able to grow that market share by giving the "customer" (read: undergrads and their parents) what they want -- an educational experience that makes them feel like they're the American success story. I'm sure this trend will reverse at some point and some university will make a killing offering super-expensive "highly rigorous" programs and set off a trend going the other way. And then we'll eventually have a backlash to that that will send it the other way. And the cycle will continue.

wordsmythe wrote:
Seth wrote:

I suppose it depends on whether you consider baby boomers, as a whole, better than or worse than millenials. :)

Where's the clip of the song from Community?

SpacePPoliceman wrote:

Yes, that's the one. It's about time all these younger generations stopped thinking about themselves and started appreciating the old people who control our lives and get in our way.

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Since I've graduated school my grades have not come into play even once in my adult life. I'm not terribly concerned.

What I do think is a bit foolish is our fetish with a college degree. Based on my experience for the vast majority of professions having a college degree is completely cosmetic.

The modern US bachelors degree has turned into something akin to mandatory military service. You are forced to give away a few years of your life to prove you are part of society. (or a certain social class within society)

At least half the people I know with degrees I wouldn't entrust with making my pancakes in the morning because they have absolutely no common sense. Hell, most of them don't even have book learning. Books are old school.

I read the whole thread and found many of the posts to be frivolous and the overall atmosphere meandering and dull. I give it a 7 out of 10.

imbiginjapan wrote:

I read the whole thread and found many of the posts to be frivolous and the overall atmosphere meandering and dull. I give it a 7 out of 10.

JUST WAIT 'TIL MY MOM HEARS ABOUT THIS YOU'LL BE SORRY YOU GAVE ME AN AVERAGE GRADE!

*takes picture with cell phone*

Demyx wrote:

Aren't expectations going up as well? For many students, it is REALLY no longer okay to get a C, when maybe that was okay back in the day.

Yes. Hearing about parents fearing their child's future depends on his/her preschool breaks my heart. Success being so completely and fully dependent on your grades, where you go to school, etc. Just truly heartbreaking. I was a straight-A student in high school. President of Honor Society, class president, nominated to the Naval and Coast Guard academies, blah blah blah.

I got to college and just got crushed my first year. I never completely recovered, but I did recover. I had some major catching-up to do because my high school produced a good paper student, but not a truly good student. I eventually became one and thus consider my college experience invaluable.

If anyone ever judged me on my grades I'd just laugh at them. I learned. That was the goal. I learned and put that to use in a successful career. Mission accomplished. But if I grew up in a culture where a C was a death sentence? Or going to the school I did was pointless? I'm not sure I would have turned out the same.

I have given performance reviews at work to folks who are used to the whole Lake Wobegon Effect and it is frustrating having to explain over and over again that being good at your job is a baseline expectation and, thus, warrants a rating of 3/5.

Paleocon wrote:

I have given performance reviews at work to folks who are used to the whole Lake Wobegon Effect and it is frustrating having to explain over and over again that being good at your job is a baseline expectation and, thus, warrants a rating of 3/5.

That's a strange juxtaposition. I would call Steve Jobs someone who was "good at their job," and I'd rate him 4/5 from what I know of his results. 3/5 is something I'd give to someone who "does the job competently," which is to say that he isn't a liability of any sort, and does his job description well. I find it interesting if you find the latter description both "good at his job" and "3/5."

Example: A storefront cashier who does all her job description well is "3/5." If she does all her job description well, is open for emergency call staffing, offers useful suggestions over and above her obligations, and gains +50% customer traffic because of her excellent personality? That's a 4/5.

and gains +50% customer traffic because of her excellent personality? That's a 4/5.

Dude, if someone is making you 50% more money just by showing up, how the hell can you say that's not 5/5 performance?

I have higher standards, I suppose. It'd be 5/5 if she also put out fires, hosted innovative leadership and team-building events, and changed the nature of her profession through her work.

Of course, she would also be high on the list for promotion. I have had an employee of this nature. She was awesome.

EDIT: And by "awesome," I don't mean "random nonspecifically great." I actually felt awed in her presence. It was an honor and a privilege to have worked with her. Even if I wasn't married, and wasn't her employer, I'd be too intimidated to date her, and she was completely average in looks.

I think it's basically a Goldilocks situation: most people think they are a 5/5, and think ratings systems that give people a 5/5 that they wouldn't are too lenient, and those that don't give them a 5/5 are too strict.

Most of life is pass/fail.

The company I work for uses a system where you get the middle score if you're working hard, doing what you're supposed to, and not needing extra help to get things done. If you go beyond that to serve your customers in unusual ways, maybe innovate a bit in some area, and help others on your team do *their* job as well (say by mentoring), that's the second highest rating. If you show all of that, as well as leadership in the team and a complete mastery of what you are supposed to do, recognized by your peers, that's the highest rating. Those are 1-2% of all ratings in any given year.

Thing is, if you get a 4 or a 5 one year, and get promoted, then doing the same thing next year would get you a 3 - it's now your expected baseline. It's in the job descriptions, too.

Naturally this system attracts people who like a challenge, and people who value doing the right thing for their customers and their team more than appeasing a boss.

Cool story bro?

We were on a 5 point system in my last job as well. I used to get flak from HR because I routinely gave my people 4s. We were a small shop with a lot to do, no time for hand-holding. I basically told HR that if my people were average, they'd probably get fired. It worked.

On a side note, what do you all think of Jack Welch's thing where every year you take the bottom 20% of performers and fire them? Personally, I think every year is a bit extreme, but I've come across a lot of companies in my time where doing that once every 5 years or so would be beneficial.

Depends on whether the company is over-staffed. I contracted for GE for a while, and morale absolutely sucked. They just threw people at problems, and if they didn't clear up, they'd kill the project, fire the staff and move on. They duplicated effort, wasted money, all the usual stuff.

The large software company I work for now deliberately hires the best they can find and works them like crazy. They don't fire people arbitrarily. But they *do* demand a lot from employees, and give a lot in return. If they fired 20%, sales/research/development/whatever would drop accordingly. Usually when they want to trim staff, they do it broadly, a few people from each organization, so as not to damage things. But it's deliberate and they definitely reduce costs before they decide to fire people.

I prefer to work where expectations are high, so I'm good with it.

Robear wrote:

Depends on whether the company is over-staffed. I contracted for GE for a while, and morale absolutely sucked. They just threw people at problems, and if they didn't clear up, they'd kill the project, fire the staff and move on. They duplicated effort, wasted money, all the usual stuff.

The large software company I work for now deliberately hires the best they can find and works them like crazy. They don't fire people arbitrarily. But they *do* demand a lot from employees, and give a lot in return. If they fired 20%, sales/research/development/whatever would drop accordingly. Usually when they want to trim staff, they do it broadly, a few people from each organization, so as not to damage things. But it's deliberate and they definitely reduce costs before they decide to fire people.

I prefer to work where expectations are high, so I'm good with it.

One would think as the market becomes more competitive for technical talent that they would start suffering attrition and get a reputation.