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Corruption Chronicles

COVID Help: $300,000 to Study How Traditional College Grading Perpetuates Systemic Inequalities

A public university is getting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Biden administration’s fraud infested COVID relief fund to study how traditional grading in college perpetuates systemic inequalities toward nontraditional and rural students. “Common classroom practices, such as grading and the use of grades to assess knowledge and performance, may have unintended consequences on students who invariably derive an awareness of their own academic abilities from the results of those grading structures,” according to the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is doling out the money. “In fact, these traditional practices may inadvertently create and promote inequities among different student groups, particularly in large enrollment courses, but these issues have largely been unexplored.”

Beginning early next year, the agency will give North Dakota State University (NDSU) $300,000 to explore the phenomenon. The project is officially titled “Reimagining Grading to Support Nontraditional and Rural Students in High Enrollment, Gateway STEM Courses” and it will be funded by the American Rescue Plan of 2021, the nearly $2 trillion measure passed by Democrats to provide immediate and direct relief to families and workers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis through no fault of their own. When the law passed last spring, the Biden administration promoted it as one of the most progressive pieces of legislation in history that would build a bridge to an equitable economic recovery. The administration justified the measure by asserting that the public health crisis and resulting economic crisis devastated the health and economic wellbeing of millions of Americans, particularly people of color, immigrants, and low-wage workers.

The reality is that a lot of the money—billions and counting—has gone to unrelated causes and the administration’s monstrous taxpayer funded COVID relief program is rife with fraud and corruption. The problem is so bad that the Department of Justice (DOJ) created a COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to “enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud.” The special unit has been quite busy prosecuting a multitude of scams, false statements, and money laundering related to pandemic relief. This month House Republicans issued a report documenting 500 days of massive waste, fraud, and abuse in the American Rescue Plan. It includes more than $783 million in stimulus checks for convicted prisoners including the Boston Marathon bomber, $40 million to expand libraries in Delaware, $2 million for a Florida golf course and $16 million for electric vehicle charging stations in Maine and $20 million to modernize the state’s fish hatcheries. The list goes on and on.

The scathing report may seem like the $300,000 for the latest questionable project is a drop in the bucket, but it highlights that cash flow has not been deterred by waste. The NDSU researcher (Tara Slominski) who will conduct the study beginning next year claims in a university article that that traditional grading practices perpetuate systemic inequities for college students. “Her work will directly address this challenge by providing STEM faculty with equitable and practical assessment and grading approaches to better support today’s college students,” the piece states, adding that the work will create more equitable learning environments. Slominski teaches biology at NDSU and has already developed a curriculum to promote success among at-risk students. She claims that “the findings from this work will help faculty across the country and across disciplines create more equitable learning environments that are better suited to support the needs of today’s college students.”

The NSF, which funds more than a quarter of research conducted at American colleges with its $8.5 billion annual budget, explains that Slominski’s postdoctoral research fellowship project seeks to examine the impact of grading practices on self-concept and STEM persistence with a special focus on rural and nontraditional students. “The project has promise to produce new insights about equitable classroom and grading practices for rural and nontraditional students that are compatible with the constraints of high enrollment gateway courses,” the agency writes in the grant announcement. It is not clear how this may provide immediate and direct relief to families and workers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis through no fault of their own as the American Rescue Plan intended.