08/31/2010 11:13 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In Defense of the "D"

I may be a little biased on the subject, having "earned" a few "D"s back in the day, but I can't help suspect that the push to banish the "D" from school report cards represents yet another attempt to water-down standards, all in the name of inflating GPAs and boosting student self-esteem. The fact that it's under consideration in the warm-and-fuzzy Boulder Valley only deepens my suspicions.

The "D" isn't the meaningless grade critics claim it is, in my opinion. Just as there needs to be an interim step between excellent (A) and average (C), it's necessary to have a way station between average (C) and abysmal (E or F). A "D" reminds a student that he or she is flirting with failure, while preventing the complete parental meltdown that accompanies an "F" or an "E." Thus, the "D" has probably helped motivate some students to do better, while preventing child abuse in households -- like the one in which I grew up -- where an "E" would call down more fire and brimstone.

It's the yellow light of the academic world, which you blow through at great risk; a sort of intellectual Purgatory, where redemption is still possible. And given the contemporary educator's reluctance to flunk students, for fear of shattering their fragile self-esteem, doing away with the "D" most likely will push borderline cases into the "C" category, so "average" will also lose its meaning. More grade inflation would seem the inevitable result.

The educrat's fondness for tinkering with the tried and true, and eagerness to embrace new fads, is symptomatic of a "system" in disarray and decay, which, instead of raising the bar high and insisting that students make the grade, keeps searching for gimmicky new ways to fake progress and evade accountability.