Higher Education: Forced Grade Distributions (Curved Classes) Are Unfair; “Objective” Mathematics Has No Effect On Subjective Human Behavior

It seems to be a popular practice to used forced grade distributions (statistics) to combat perceived grade inflation as well as possibly re-establishing value to grades.

While there has to be a method of assessing academic work, I contend that even so-called objective standards of measurement can be abusive and extremely unfair to students subjected to them. Statistics (the basis of curves) seems to be objective, but only in the presence of perfect human behavior. Given the manifestly imperfect world in which we reside, curves should then be used with care.

Some classes, like economics (at some universities), are ruinous to one’s grade point average (GPA). It is ironic that a course of study that is used intuitively by people daily is made so difficult to understand and learn in an academic context. This issue may be recognized by professors who come up with a solution of forced grade distributions (grading the class on a curve).

Forced grade distributions are like the sword of Damocles in that one should not ever be relaxed in a curved class as you do not know how the other students will do. For certain, their performance inevitably affects the curve and each student’s ultimate grade.

A curved class offers a possibility to overcome a professor that thinks that he or she is the only human with a brain to understand the material. However, this is not the case, and what normally happens is that other students may be able to crack the code and master the difficult professor’s puzzles. This result leaves the GPAs of the unfortunate regular mortal students who are unable to achieve such mastery to be cut down in the process.

Also, what is invidious about curves is that it purports to use cold mathematics to force an objectivity on grades that are intrinsically subjective. Whereas statistics will allow the professor to order the GPAs in a accepted form, issues of subjective fairness remain and are untouched by the statistical manipulations. If the professor lays waste to the class by hiding the ball, failing to explain the material in a way for students to reasonably understand, presenting exams that would put the Delphic Oracles to shame, then no application of statistics will ameliorate the moral issues of fairness (failing the uniform failure of the class).

WMATA: Virginia Governor Calls for Safety Oversight for Metro System; No Mention on Providing Funding

It is unfortunate that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) system has become a political football by those who are responsible for the system. It seems that denouncing Metro is seen as politically expedient while at the same time those same politicians refuse to provide funds that will allow Metro system to maintain and operate its capital plant.

For example, see this article about Robert McDonnell, Virginia Governor, calling for increased safety oversight for Metro. As I have mentioned before, this is a laudable and necessary goal, but it requires money (it was unmentioned whether Gov. McDonnell discussed how to pay for the oversight).

Subsidy Funding (fiscal year 2010) (Source: WMATA)

Maryland $215.6 million
District of Columbia $201.6 million
Virginia $129.4 million
Total subsidy $546.7 million (+27.5 million debt service)= $574.2 million

Passenger fares and parking fees: $702.7 million

Metro System Information

Metrobus 340 routes (breakdown by jurisdiction not available)

Metrorail stations (by state)

Total: 86

District of Columbia 40 (38.3 miles of track)

Maryland 26 (Montgomery County (11) and Prince George’s County (15)) (38.31 miles) [Note: The state of Maryland operates its own subway in Baltimore, Md.]

Virginia 20 (Arlington County (11), Fairfax County (6), and the City of Alexandria (3)) (29.47 miles)

Source: WMATA.

The days of expecting the ridership to cover the funding shortfalls has come to an end; the jurisdictions must step forward with additional funding. Metro is an instrument that many taxpayers use to get to work or social activities all around the metropolitan area. So providing money to Metro is not really a money drain but rather an input to capital which allows for the same jurisdictions to receive an output (tax receipts).

Post Script:

Fair Share for Metro