What happened to the C student?

John C. Chalberg reflects on what’s changed in more than 30 years teaching U.S history at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota. For one thing, he’s not as demanding.

I assign less reading.  I now permit what I once dismissed as an unfortunate carryover from high school: extra credit.  I give free points for simply turning in work, not all work, mind you, but a not insignificant chunk of work (and, therefore, points).

He gives the same percentage of A’s and B’s, but C’s have declined significantly.  He misses the “critical mass of average students” who used to do a middling or lower middling amount of work to earn a C. They’d rather flunk.

When I came here, a bare eon or two ago, I asked a veteran teacher to assess the students.  I’ll never forget his response.  The good ones, he told me, are as good as you’ll find anywhere; the bad ones, he went on, are as bad as anywhere else, but the bag kind of sags in the middle.  Well, I fear that the bottom has fallen out of the bag.

He gives weekly writing assignments with full credit for  “handing the piece in on time, wrestling with the question that has been asked, and coming at least close to the required word limit.”  He gives points for online and in-class discussions.

When all is said and graded, the good ones do even better, and too many of the rest do even worse.

The majority of students don’t do the work. Last term, half his students were gone by the end of the semester. Chalberg wonders: What do I do?