In middle school, "the product doesn't matter"

In the latest edition of the Wayzata Central Middle School "Parent Communication" newsletter, principal Steve Root re-published, with some updating, a column he originally published three years ago. In a high-achieving public school district like Wayzata, I was surprised to read how Root feels about grades:

I think that sometimes too much emphasis is put on the final product (grades) and not enough attention is given to the process by which we arrive at that point...

I have heard parents, frustrated with the attitude that their children have toward school and grades, ask how to respond when faced with their adolescent's comment that "This is middle school — grades don't count. I'll get serious when I get to high school." They are right — the product doesn't matter. Colleges will not request their middle school transcript; scholarship offers will not hinge on their seventh grade Language Arts grade. What does matter is learning and experiencing the process.

This sounds like the ultimate in valuing process over results. I do not favor putting extreme pressure on seventh graders to raise their Language Arts grades from an A to A+, but as Vince Lombardi said, "If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?"

Parents who are not satisfied "the product doesn't matter" may be interested in Mayhem in the Middle: How middle schools have failed America—and how to make them work, by Cheri Pierson Yecke. It is a free download from the Fordham Foundation.

To be fair to Wayzata, something must change when the freshmen first cross the threshold over at Wayzata High School (dubbed "The Airport" by ninth graders because of its gargantuan size). WHS seniors score well above the national averages on college entrance exams. Enrollment in Advanced Placement and Post Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) coursework is so high, many WHS students earn a fistful of college credits before they even leave home for freshman orientation.