Jorge Zhang

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I think about education a lot. What strikes me is the fact that almost everyone would agree that education is a crucial element of a functioning and prosperous society, but there is so little attention devoted to improving education. So many educational practices are unquestioned and widespread despite tons of research and evidence that they are ineffectual or counter-productive. I have made it a goal of mine to bring more attention to these broken structures in the hopes that one day they can be revolutionized.


Grades distort the meaning of education by creating extrinsic motivations for students to do well. There is a lot of research to support that this extrinsic motivation reduces intrinsic motivation. This harms students because it means that they aren't learning because they want to learn, but because they want a reward. When these rewards go away, the learning stops, which is why teachers have to offer "extra credit" to get students to do anything beyond the normal curriculum. An old saying goes that you should not force a horse to drink water: wait until it is thirsty and it will drink the water on its own. I think that the same philosophy should be applied to education. I don't buy the argument that grades make students perform better. I have found it to be personally false, but I would also argue that education is not "zero-sum" and that students stand to gain much more from collaboration and peer learning than by competing for an artificially limited number of A's. Worse, grades tend to discourage poor performers rather than encourage them by making them hate certain subjects. As someone who enjoys math and is baffled by how many people hate it, the answer is almost always that they had a bad experience in a math class. How can we solve this problem? I believe that abolishing grades is a workable solution, and many companies (like Google) are reducing or eliminating the importance of GPA in their hiring processes. Another solution I like is narrative evaluation, which puts additional burdens on professors and companies, but ultimately gives much more detailed, nuanced, and useful information than a transcript.

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Fewer Requirements

I generally believe that fewer required classes are better for students (and worse for administrators and teachers, who have to adjust to the whims of students). Flexibility in registration allows a "free market" of subjects, creating natural pressures to cancel outdated classes and offer ones that appeal to modern interests. On the other hand, there is a compelling argument that interdisciplinary studies can broaden the mind and force students to consider things from multiple perspectives. That said, I do believe that most students end up exploring many subjects anyway, and that the small minority of students who only want to take classes in one subject generally have good reasons to do so.

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High school policies

Using Water Payton College Prep as a case study, I find that policies that discourage competition tend to result in better outcomes for both students and the school's overall ranking. These policies range from abolishing/diminishing the importance of grades to eliminating class rank and the valedictorian.

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