Sample Journal – 98%

                  “Credit mills makes your stress about marks fly away”

Just failed a test?

Your teacher said No to a retest?

Think your life is over?

If the answer to all these questions was “Yes” then be ready to blow away all your worries (that is if you have the money to pay up). Let me introduce you to the world of high school “credit mills”. It is a place where students  usually take a class or two outside their regular school.  So why do students seek to enroll in such private institutions for prices such as $ 7oo per credit while they can gain the same credit from a regular high school?

Well, with the increasing competition for spots in universities, students are very concerned about their marks and hope for their marks to improve. It seems that report card miracles take place in high school credit mills where marks increase substantially.

Provincial inspection reports obtained through interviews with students, teachers and principals, revealed:

  • Grades at some private schools arbitrarily increased upon request
  • Credits granted with less than half of mandatory class hours completed
  • Outdated curriculums, no lesson plans, no course outlines and missing student assessments
  • Difficult questions removed from exams
  • Teachers without proper qualifications and those who “do not understand” evaluation and assessment
  • Students permitted to take courses without the mandatory prerequisites
  • Rewriting of tests for $100
  • Students left to write tests with little supervision and access to the Internet.

After reading this, I would expect two reactions :

1.“This is paradise!!!”

2. “The horror, how is this injustice happening? Why are the teachers and the educational system handing out marks so easily?” ( I really hope this was your reaction)

Well this can be explained through the incentives and opportunity costs that are introduced into the equation by students paying money for their credits. Incentives are used to motivate or prevent people from doing certain  things . There are three types of incentives: moral, social and economic incentives. Economic incentives play an important role in credit mills. These incentives are effective for both parties, the students and the school receive some kind of economic gain. In this case, the schools and teachers handing out marks receive a monetary gain as the fees they collect from the students. In turn, the students receive the desired marks, an economic gain. It has been reported that students who have failed to have even passed the Grade 10 Literacy Test have gone “on to get 91 per cent in Grade 12 English at a private school”.

Moral incentives are another factor that affect the decision making skills of teacher. You would think that the fact, “handing out marks for money is ethically incorrect” is crystal clear. However, it seems the exact opposite thing is taking place. The fact that students are paying large amounts of money for the credit has said to make teachers more sympathetic to their students. Teachers believe that since the student is paying for the mark, the “right” thing to do would be to give he or she the mark in return as well.

Tariq Butt, principal of a private high school in Toronto which was shut down by the province last year said:

“I might, without wanting to, award them slightly higher grades. That is part of the equation . . . This is true across the board, even at schools that I work with.”

These incentives are capable of working miracles in sudden mark boosts and changing people’s behaviour. They use opportunity costs to alter someone’s decisions or actions to those you want. Opportunity cost is the most highly sacrificed alternative. It is basically the value of the “next-best” choice. In this case, the opportunity cost is the actual education student could have obtained by working hard and studying.

The idea of a private high school “credit mill” might sound nice. You might think “why shouldn’t I simply attend one of these high schools that will grab me a spot in the university I want with minimum effort”. Your ultimate goal is to enter university AND graduate from it successfully. The private school might guarantee, you a spot in university but it won’t guarantee you to be successful in university. In fact, it leaves you worst off and sets you up to fail miserable in university. Enrolling in a high school credit mill will encourage you to slack off and not actually work hard for your mark. Simply buying marks will not ensure that you will successfully make the transition from high school to university. Credit mills might give youthe desired marks but by choosing this option, you give up your chance to learn and gain a real education which will be your opportunity costs.

High school credit mills provide a way to grab spots in the desired program and university of one’s choice by giving the mark for the buck. However this brings up the question: Is this system equitable, efficient and equitable?

1. Efficiency

An economy is said to be efficient when it takes all opportunities to make someone better off without making other people worst off. It might seem like credit mills are very efficient on the surface: Students are happy getting high marks which most likely will guarantee them a spot in university and the schools are happy receiving the money.

Looks like everyone benefits, right? You’re WRONG!

Credit mills might get students into universities but with the same speed they get in, they get out. Credit mills give students high marks but not a quality education. Students who pay for these grades are worst off for they will fail in university for lacking the proper foundation and training needed to survive university. The even horrifying part is that the credit mills make students academically deserving worst off. With the competition and cut-offs for acceptances and scholarships in top universities such as McGill increasing every year, students work harder to achieve high grades. The reality is that these deserving students might never get  a chance to enter university for students academically less deserving have stolen their spots through credit mills. In a Toronto Star article, it was stated that “There are kids getting scholarships based on false documents. They take (university spots) they shouldn’t be getting and then flunk out because they’re not ready. It’s undermining the integrity of education”. Credit mills are inefficient.

2. Equality

Equality means that everyone gets his or her equal share. It means that the benefits of resources are distributed equally among the members of society. If credit mills resulted in equal outcomes, each student will have an equal opportunity to receive scholarships and acceptance to universities but that is not the case here. Not every student can afford to pay the high price of $500 to $700 to earn credits at private schools. Students who have the luxury to pay for their mark have a greater chance at getting into university proving that this system creates inequality.

3. Equity

Equity is defined as the benefits of resources being distributed fairly among the members of society. He or she gets a fair share. One might reason that it is fair for a student to receive a high mark since she paid for it. Take a second and think, what are marks supposed to reflect? That’s right, your knowledge and understanding of concepts. How is it fair that a student who studies day and night, does homework regularly receives a 90 in Calculus from a regular high school while a student who skips class, doesn’t hand in assignments still ends up with a 98, an even higher mark in Calculus from a high school credit mill. This system is nothing but unfair.

With all the frustration pent up, one starts to wonder if there are any solutions to this problem. Well…

1. “P” on the transcript

Two years ago, the Ministry of Education tried resolving this issue of grade inflation caused by credit mills by placing a “P” in the school transcript to make university administrators aware that these marks were received from a private school. However, instead of presenting a solution, the “P” on the transcript has only caused more confusion. University officials are unsure of how to distinguish credit mill schools from legitimate private schools such as Upper Canada College. The registrar of University of Waterloo, Ken Lavigne has said that they simply disregard the “P” notation.

By introducing the “P” notation, the Ministry of Education did make it clearer which credits were earned through private schools.  However, the Ministry still needs to keeping working on bring more clarity to which private school, the credit comes from. A renown institution  such as Upper Canada College or a high school credit mill as Toronto Collegiate Institute look the same on a transcript with the “P” notation. A possibility could be that instead of a P, the name of the school could appear on the transcript.

2. STANDARDIZED TESTING: SATs, subject tests

Like subject tests and SATs held in the United States, the idea of standardized testing could be considered as a way to eliminate credit-mills. A standardized test would discourage private schools from handing out marks easily. While the present marking system should continue to exist, universities can use the results from standardized testing to make a better judgement of the student’ performance (equally weighted?). SATs might not be needed to be introduced into the system since Ontario already has a Literacy test and EQAO to test students’ knowledge of English and Mathematics. However, subject tests can be introduced to test the knowledge of specific courses. This would encourage private schools to provide students with a quality education instead of simply handing out marks for the buck.

3. More Inspections: a closer eye on private schools

The Ministry of Education should boost the frequency of provincial inspections. The inspections should not only deal with the health and safety of the learning environment but also the quality of learning presented at the school. They should monitor schools that are underperforming and have surprise visits. At present, there are 358 credit-granting private schools and only 28 “education officers” charged with inspecting the schools. At this ratio, the frequency of such visits will be really low. The Ministry of Education should try to find the resources, to hire more education officers. However, there remains one force, ever strong that can help: the Media. The Toronto Star press covered many articles last year on credit mills, uncovering the injustice happening. The media should continue exposing schools and the individuals behind this system to the world. Such actions will set a social incentive discouraging credit mills from conducting business ventures in the name of “private schools” in the fear of how society is going to judge them.

BOTTOM LINE: Credit Mills are a BAD thing.

Credit mills tell “you that you are smarter than you think” (TCI’s slogan).  Of course, you are smarter than you think that’s why you aren’t going to sacrifice your valuable education by attending such credit mills.