Zero Logic Behind Controversial Policy

Commentary, Education, Frontier Centre

When I was an impressionable, young wannabe writer, crafting back-and-forth Tarantino-esque witticisms for high school drama projects, I would have loved to have been told that I crafted "pulp fiction."

Even if it was a pejorative.

So I take it as a point of pride to be lumped in with other media commentators accused by the principal of Ross Sheppard High School in Edmonton of "reporting pulp fiction and talk radio."

In advance of Lynden Dorval's final hearing the Edmonton Public Schools chief superintendent Monday, audio of a staff meeting held by principal Ron Bradley was released, defending his teachers, the no-zero policy at his school, and blasting the media for their coverage of the controversy.

Ross Sheppard and its nozero policy became the focus of considerable controversy after Dorval was suspended late last school year for disobeying the policy — and contradicting his boss.

Monday, Dorval will get to plead his case, but he expects to have his contract terminated.

There are people who make the point that his open insubordination justified his firing, that by not completing the work asked of him, then perhaps he should get a zero.

They further argue that by being a bit of a jerk about it — apparently he changed a grade back to a zero after his principal changed it from a zero — Dorval left the door open for harsh disciplinary action.

But in suspending, and now likely terminating Dorval, they are giving him the zero that they claim to be against.

They are backing up the argument that many Dorval defenders have made, that life has harsh consequences.

It may be fair that he is losing his job for not doing what he was told, but the school board should be holding their kids to the same standards.

But, sadly, they're not, preferring to stick with an assessment method that offers very little in the way of common sense, and one with little actual proof of efficacy in improving student performance.

According to a new study from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, proponents of these policies themselves deserve an F for a shoddy argument and an inability to prove their thesis.

In his study, Michael Zwaagstra, himself a teacher, education researcher and author, suggests any claim nozero rules work aren't worth the paper they're printed on, mostly because they lack evidence.

"The research on no-zero policies is surprisingly weak," he writes.

"In fact, the assessment consultants regularly cite each other as their only sources when defending no-zero policies, and they rarely refer to actual research evidence to support their position."

Further, Zwaagstra writes, the policies limit classroom independence, create unwanted controversy for school districts and are not supported by parents.

And, as I have also written, they do nothing to prepare young adults for the consequences of the real world, the consequences that Lynden Dorval is now facing.

While it's true Zwaagstra doesn't offer studies that show the effectiveness of giving a zero to kids, as he states, the onus isn't on him.

The onus is on those who seek to change the way our kids are taught to give good reasons why.


And if they can't, other than to make half-baked claims about self-esteem, student motivation and other nonsense, then we shouldn't listen.

As a parent, I am trying to teach my children lessons about consequences, and to hold them responsible for their actions.

It would be nice if the education system carried that lesson into the classroom.