Some years ago I spoke with a mathematician who earned a Ph.D. at Florida State University and went on to become a professor at Vanderbilt. “At FSU,” she said, “I taught calculus and about a third of the students didn’t do the homework, didn’t learn any calculus, expected to fail the class, and did fail the class.” No surprise considering the football obsession of FSU! (And when are they going to change the name of the team to something other than “Seminoles”? The only way to show that one is not prejudiced against Native Americans is to erase all references to Native Americans while keeping what used to be their land.)
How was Vanderbilt different? “The students behaved exactly the same as at FSU,” she responded. “About one third of them did nothing and learned nothing. So I failed them.” What happened next? “Every dean at the university descended on my office to explain that Vanderbilt students were not failures and that it was not possible to fail one third of the class, even if they had learned no calculus.”
NYU has an elite price, at least. Let’s check out “At N.Y.U., Students Were Failing Organic Chemistry. Who Was to Blame?” (NYT):
In the field of organic chemistry, Maitland Jones Jr. has a storied reputation. He taught the subject for decades, first at Princeton and then at New York University, and wrote an influential textbook. He received awards for his teaching, as well as recognition as one of N.Y.U.’s coolest professors.
But last spring, as the campus emerged from pandemic restrictions, 82 of his 350 students signed a petition against him.
Students said the high-stakes course — notorious for ending many a dream of medical school — was too hard, blaming Dr. Jones for their poor test scores.
Good news for those who say that an 80-year-old is not sharp enough to be president of the USA:
Dr. Jones, 84, is known for changing the way the subject is taught. In addition to writing the 1,300-page textbook “Organic Chemistry,” now in its fifth edition, he pioneered a new method of instruction that relied less on rote memorization and more on problem solving.
What did the ex-professor notice about kids today?
“Students were misreading exam questions at an astonishing rate,” he wrote in a grievance to the university, protesting his termination. Grades fell even as he reduced the difficulty of his exams.
The problem was exacerbated by the pandemic, he said. “In the last two years, they fell off a cliff,” he wrote. “We now see single digit scores and even zeros.”
After several years of Covid learning loss, the students not only didn’t study, they didn’t seem to know how to study, Dr. Jones said.
MIT and Harvard Medical Students are still amazingly gifted, in my experience, but they definitely did not learn as much during coronapanic. In our ground school class we use the FAA knowledge test to verify mastery of the subject and students who go through the YouTube+Zoom version score about 10 points lower (out of 100) compared to students who sit in a classroom for three days straight.
(Don’t read this as a defense of Professor Jones at NYU and the low grades that he gave on exams. I am against the entire system that prevails in the U.S. under which professors grade their own students. In my view, professors should teach and a neutral evaluator should grade, as is done with the Microsoft and Cisco certifications as well as with the granting of FAA certificates. There is an unavoidable bias when a teacher grades his/her/zir/their own students: “This student appears to have learned nothing, but I am the smartest person in the world and the student sat through my lectures, which means he/she/ze/they must have learned a lot even if the exam does not reflect that. B+”)