‘No-Zero’ Education Policies Hurt Kids

Media Appearances, Education, Frontier Centre

Life is full of failures. But it isn't the failures that are important -it's the success that comes with moving on from them.

This isn't a lofty concept -it's a basic fact of life that kids are taught by parents and teachers. At least it used to be.

Today's schools are laden with 'romantic progressive' education theory, which has some unfortunate results. Uninformed teachers are learning the material along with the kids. Anti-obesity campaigns run alongside soccer ball bans.

And then there are the 'no-zero' policies.

Many school boards and bureaucrats have decided that it's best to never give a 'zero' grade -regardless of whether kids even hands in assignments.

The most well known case is the brave Edmonton high school teacher Lynden Dorval, who dared to give zeros for skipped assignments – and was suspended for it.

But we've seen the trend here in Toronto too.

In 2009, Ontario's deputy education minister Dr. Ben Levin, released a memo promoting "no-fail" policies for students. He said, plainly, "People aren't motivated by failure. They're demotivated by failure." Well sure, for a day or two. But that's how they know they need to improve.

Teachers across the country respond to these policies with anger, knowing firsthand that low grades are motivating when necessary.

Surely there are good intentions behind these policies. Kids have a lot to deal with. There's peer pressure, puberty, and sadly, even bullying.

But it's absurd to think you can protect a kid from failure forever. Coddling kids will have a negative impact in the long run.

This is confirmed in a report released today by the Manitoba-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy, authored by Education Policy Fellow and high school teacher Michael Zwaagstra.

Though "no-zero policies" have already been tried in Ontario schools and are in place in other parts of the country, there's virtually no evidence to support that not failing kids when they deserve it helps them improve.

Put in place by bureaucrats outside of the classroom, these policies also interfere with teachers' discretion in deter mining grades. In other words, it prevents teachers from doing their jobs.

The most important finding in the report is that "no-zero" policies fail to mentally prepare kids for the world that awaits them after graduation.

There are countless Gen- Ys leaving school who have never experienced hard work in their lives. Suddenly faced with the 'real world', wherein you have to do something crazy like contribute to society, many just can't cope.

So we see hoards of young adults spending a decade on publicly-subsidized liberal arts degrees or moving back with their parents at the age of 25.

No-zero policies highlight the diminishing importance of work ethic.

This isn't the future we should be setting our kids up for. Failure is an inevitable fact of life, and dealing with it early not only teaches kids how to cope, it teaches them how to put in the work necessary to overcome it and succeed.

Hard work is the foundation of our society -it's in every immigrant success story, every entrepreneur, every accomplished artist and every winning sports team.

All the stars of those stories started as kids, in school, plugging away like everyone else. To deny our kids the chance to fail is to deny them the chance to succeed.