Walk for Science on Wednesday is an annual fundraiser for the science department of Henderson’s Green Valley High School, but some students and parents are treating it as cash for grades.
Students must perform academic exercises along the 2.5-mile walk, such as calculating how many calories they’re burning, but they also must raise a minimum of $15 to participate. If they can’t raise the money, they have to write a five-page paper on “energy usage in the United States” to earn the same amount of extra credit.
Sophomore Leanna Ranieri, 16, said the event is the only opportunity that science students will have this academic quarter for extra credit. She said many students are excited by the chance to raise their grade by 3 percentage points, which could be enough to boost their letter grades for the quarter.
“You’re paying $15 for 3 percent of extra credit,” Ranieri said. “That’s how I think of it.”
Green Valley Principal Jeff Horn did not think his school’s fundraiser was unusual. “We’re not unique,” he said. “Many schools do this.”
The association of extra credit with cash makes a few critics cringe: They see it as a sign of declining academic standards.
“It borders on the idiotic. I think it cheapens education,” said John Erickson, the father of 16-year-old Green Valley student Michael Erickson. “I don’t like the values it teaches.”
Others across the nation have had the same reaction. Rosewood Middle School in Goldsboro, N.C., made national headlines this week because of a fundraiser that would have let students buy test credits.
For $20, families could buy 20 test points. Students would have been able to apply 10 credits to two tests of their choice. Wayne County Public Schools stopped the fundraiser when officials found out about it. The principal who approved the cash-for-credit fundraiser has left the school.
Dan Wueste, an ethicist at South Carolina’s Rutland Institute for Ethics at Clemson University, has criticized school fundraisers that use grades as incentives.
“Young people are encouraged to think that there’s nothing money can’t buy,” he said.
But Wueste would not criticize Green Valley’s fundraiser because students are doing some academic work for their extra credit.
When making their 10 laps around the school track after school on Wednesday, students must stop at stations and fill out worksheets. They must answer questions that are relevant to what they’re studying in class, school officials said. Horn said it would be quicker for students to do the alternative and write the five-page paper for the extra credit.
A third alternative allows students to participate in the walk without raising money. They would have to contribute two hours of their time to clean the school instead.
The two hours of cleaning is estimated to be the equivalent of the time a student would spend raising funds, said Michael Rodriguez, a Clark County School District spokesman.
But Ranieri said many parents at the Henderson school just give their children the $15.
Erickson dismissed the academic work associated with the science walk as “window dressing.”
“It’s still a fundraiser,” Erickson said.
It’s not that the Green Valley dad opposes school fundraisers. He gives $500 to $600 a year to the high school’s football team, he said.
He just worries about easy extra credit contributing to grade inflation or about giving students higher grades than those they have actually earned.
He said that three of his children were valedictorians when they graduated from Green Valley but that the distinction is losing its prestige.
Schools have gotten to the point where every graduating class has “10 to 15 valedictorians,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter James Haug at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-374-7917.