News Detail

Teachers Hear from Alfie Kohn, "Case Against Grades"

Liz Tausner
In the Opening Weeks of this new 2012-'13 academic year, D-E teachers had the opportunity to hear directly from and be inspired by the ideas of acclaimed author Alfie Kohn.  During a recent professional development session for all faculty members from the Lower, Middle and Upper Schools, Kohn spoke on his theories regarding the evaluation of children and the critical importance of focusing on their learning process and not just on achievement.    

A Boston-based author and lecturer with an M.A. in Social Sciences from the U. of Chicago, Alfie Kohn has been referred to by  Time Magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades and test scores”.  He has authored more than a dozen books on education, including Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason; The Homework Myth:  Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing; and Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes.
As the inside book cover explains, “Punished by Rewards” demonstrates [how] people actually do inferior work when they are enticed with money, grades, or other incentives.”  In his Nov. 2011 article in Educational Leadership, Kohn made his “Case against Grades” by discussing the effects of grading and why it’s problematic, while addressing ways in which schools can delete or dilute grades.

While Kohn preaches about his support in no grading at all, D-E faculty members were asked by Head of School Dr. De Jarnett in his introductory remarks to "take advantage of this unique opportunity to listen and think about how we approach our policies here at Dwight-Englewood, and challenge ourselves to consider alternative, different ways of assessment."

Reflecting on Kohn's presentation, Joseph Algrant, Upper School Principal, remarked, "Alfie Kohn's provocative presentation has unleashed and inspired a powerful conversation about pedagody, about assessment, and ultimately about working with better effectiveness to help students to learn and become better learners. His high intellectual approach, delivered with wit and good humor, made the opening faculty days an exciting and heady experience. Alfie's workshop opened a conversation that will last for the rest of the year as [our] faculty work to establish a philosophy of grading and the guiding principles to direct the ways that grades are determined."

Middle School faculty member Ben Fleisher echoed these sentiments, commenting as follows: 
"I was inspired by Mr. Kohn's presentation in a number of ways. Personally, his ideas resonate with me. I'm amenable to getting rid of grades because I think it's important to figure out how to assess your students more accurately and I feel that grades can tend to be reductive. This has lead me to rethink the way I approach unit design and the day-to-day of my classes for this year. I [also] feel that Mr. Kohn's goals are compatible with our mission statement and profile of a graduate"

To learn more about Alfie Kohn visit

Mailing Address: 315 East Palisade Avenue Englewood, NJ 07631
gps: 81 Lincoln Street, Englewood, NJ 07631
201-569-9500 Email:
Located in Englewood, New Jersey, Dwight-Englewood is a greater New York City area private school with a rigorous college prep curriculum for boys and girls in preschool through grade 12.