Wow, Grade Inflation: Article in the New York Times

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Today the New York Times posted: In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That – NYTimes.com .Most of us already concluded that oversaturation of the legal market and lack of practical skills caused most lawyers to talk the plank into the sea of unemployment.

“In the last two years, at least 10 law schools have deliberately changed their grading systems to make them more lenient. These include law schools like New York University and Georgetown, as well as Golden Gate University and Tulane University, which just announced the change this month. Some recruiters at law firms keep track of these changes and consider them when interviewing, and some do not.”

This article focuses on grade inflation, with the implication that such practices will increase the chance for attorneys to get jobs. What the author fails to realize is that there aren’t any legal jobs to get moreso nowadays.

“Law schools seem to view higher grades as one way to rescue their students from the tough economic climate — and perhaps more to the point, to protect their own reputations and rankings. Once able to practically guarantee gainful employment to thousands of students every year, the schools are now fielding complaints from more and more unemployed graduates, frequently drowning in student debt.”

One could easily argue that students are getting grades they do not deserve, yet students who are forced into the bottom portion of the curve because of mandatory grading may benefit.

“Unlike undergraduate grading, which has drifted northward over the years because most undergraduate campuses do not strictly regulate the schoolwide distribution of As and Bs, law schools have long employed clean, crisp, bell-shaped grading curves. Many law schools even use computers to mathematically determine cutoffs between a B+ and a B, based on exam points.” I doubt somewhat the characterization the author makes of most undergraduate schools, like during this entire time the law school’s manner of operating has a clear history of legitimacy.

I do remember reading a year ago a high school or elementary schoolteacher who left primary education altogether because he was distraught that by school policy he HAD TO distribute a certain number of grades ranging from A’s to D’s for each school year. He stated there were some were good in certain areas like testing and others who were good in other areas, solving problems but not under pressure (I guess like schoolwork or homework) but I’m sure you can assume who received what grades. This teacher had a soul. Based on what I witnessed in law school, especially your first year, where you’re assigned tenured professors who have lost their minds, that many of them enjoy taking their life’s disappointments on unsuspecting students (pretty much all 1Ls). I’ve even met a Ph.D. professor who stated she enjoyed final exam and final grading because she could give whoever she didn’t like in her class whatever grade she wanted.

“All of the moves can create a vicious cycle like that seen in chief executive pay: if every school in the bottom half of the distribution raises its marks to enter the top half of the distribution, or even just to become average, the average creeps up. This puts pressure on schools to keep raising their grades further.” Wonder if it does any thing for their rankings too…”Employers say they also press law schools for rankings, or some indication of G.P.A.’s for the top echelon of the class. And if the school will not release that information — many do not — other accolades like honors and law journal participation provide clues to a student’s relative rank.” Interesting…

Anyone remember the scene from the Titanic when the ship was actually sinking and the violins kept playing either to comfort those on board or for those who wanted to enjoy themselves until the vary end? These schools are doing everything BUT closing down to keep the cycle going. These factors contribute greatly to the future generations, standard of living, mental and social health, but grading systems themselves do not appear to be regulated at all.

Next, the article reads: “Others, like Duke and the University of Texas at Austin, offer stipends for students to take unpaid public interest internships. Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law even recently began paying profit-making law firms to hire its students.” Just as many 0Ls are desparately seeking ways to attend law schools, these law schools are getting so desparate to have their prior students get some work. This is such a bad cycle. It’s like no one is dealing with reality. Cycle of law school addiction?

“But the tactic getting the most attention — and the most controversy — is the sudden, deliberate and dubiously effective grade inflation, which had begun even before the legal job market softened.”

“If somebody’s paying $150,000 for a law school degree, you don’t want to call them a loser at the end,” says Stuart Rojstaczer, a former geophysics professor at Duke who now studies grade inflation. “So you artificially call every student a success.”

But wait, IVY League law schools are doing it too:Harvard and Stanford, two of the top-ranked law schools, recently eliminated traditional grading altogether. Like Yale and the University of California, Berkeley, they now use a modified pass/fail system, reducing the pressure that law schools are notorious for. This new grading system also makes it harder for employers to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, which means more students can get a shot at a competitive interview.”

This is unfortunate because as more of the lower tier law schools opened, more students will attend for some strange reason. Older generations (I mean people who grew up in the 80’s) did not have access to law school rankings and U.S. News and the internet. Career centers or counselors steered them towards state institutions regardless of rankings. Those that could’ve made it into Top Tier then would’ve had better chances of carving a real career in the legal industry before this devastating shift of “it will never be the same” occurred. Now, those who were intelligent enough and those who weren’t but attended the same TTT law school will be forever lumped in the mediocrity with rice paper thin prestige. Those who knew some of the game and went to top tier but not that much better will be given the written stamp of approval, you may pass “Go” but still on the other side of the door are the blank faces whose stares read “Yeah, they got me too.” So welcome one and all, at this point it does not make a difference which law school you attended, only in the heads of those promoting this practice and the all too eager law graduate who continues to delude him or herself into thinking that attending law school was a wise decision.

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