I Blame Jay Greene and Chris Swanson

High school student didn’t exert any effort all year? Therefore likely to repeat and drop out? 

No sweat. Recover! A few days online, perhaps 10 to 20 hours. Don’t actually learn much. Just click and click until stumbling upon acceptable answers. Sure beats the chumps who did try for 900 hours of class and perhaps 400 hours of homework/studying.

This is not your father’s social promotion and overruling of teachers. “Credit recovery” comes with the imprimatur of “learn at your own pace!”

WaPo weighs in on the growing abuse, following on heels of NYT April story, and Edwize 2007.

“Bria was struggling on a world history quiz, the same 10-question, multiple-choice quiz she had taken five times.”

Attention human capital reformers!  This is something that drives urban teacher batty. 

With Greene and Swanson having led an admirable effort to expose our nation’s high dropout rates circa 2000, this is the response of some districts: lower the bar until there’s not a bar.

Despite alarm bells in the Redwood Forests, credit recovery is the rage: from the Gulf Stream waters, to Kosciusko MS (100% success!), to Lakeville, IN (where, predictably, CR also allowed the local school to hire a basketball coach. Two birds with one crossover. Go Hoosiers!)

–Guestblogger Michael “Goldstein Goes Wild”

7 Replies to “I Blame Jay Greene and Chris Swanson”

  1. In our school, students say it well, Credit Recovery gets you a degree, and all you have to do is “exercise your right click finger.”

    If you haven’t had the opportunity, you should watch students as they do online tutorials. For some, it is a great and liberating tool. (just wearing earphones helps some block out the noise and distractions) Most follow the same pattern as they mumble, guess, memorize, share answers, try to cheat, and then go back to guessing. They expend as much work building those bad habits as it would take to really learn.

    Its a classic case of “rational expectations.” When a student chooses to go to class or cut, they don’t figure that the bad habits will come back to bite them. They all have friends who got six or eight or so credits for a few weeks of Credit Recovery, but they don’t think they will be like their other friends who didn’t graduate as the short-cut didn’t work. The more that kids cut and fail, the more pressure is placed on educators to just pass them on, and the more we invest in teacherless solutions.

    Similarly, the more that teachers protest, the more we are blamed for a) low proficiency, b) not caring enough about the students, and c) protecting the status quo.

    As usual with NCLB, its the highest poverty schools that are hurt the most. In lower poverty schools it is not as hard to monitor safety nets and use online tools the way they should be. But when you have hundreds of kids failing half of their courses, and attendance drops below 80%, everyone gets swamped. Credit Recovery, and summer and night school, tend to get watered down, and the bottom line is to make the numbers look better. In our school, we often give up on these fig leafs and give kids credit for pitting up trash and running errands.

    But as the NYT shows, these programs can raise graduation rates by 5% even if they further water down the value of a diploma. Rubbing more insult into injury is the clear pattern where NYC claims to be increasing student learning through the aggressive use of these tricks.

    This is just the logical extension of No CYA Left Behind.

  2. I agree with your suggestion, John, that policymakers should try to see CR in action. More broadly, I think they should see high-poverty: (including credit recovery) “in action” — frequently, unannounced, “organically.”

    Right now, most high schools are measured on:
    1) state tests raw score
    2) dropout rate (evolving definitions)
    3) college entrance rates among its grads

    I’d like to see NCLB add:
    1. Value-add gain on state tests
    2. College graduation rate, not just college entrance rate
    3. Income for first 2 years out of high school (if not in college)
    4. Some version of the Weingarten proposed “school culture” metric

    And I’d like to see all the data for:
    1. Kids who attend and graduate in 4, 5 years
    2. Kids who attend and drop out
    3. Kids who transfer in or out. (For example, many of our school’s kids transfer back to the district in search of social promotion, but then spectacularly outperform most kids in the district based on what they’ve gotten from us in 2 years. This is true at some other so-called No Excuses schools. But there’s no easy way to prove this).

    Basically, taken together, this would create a fairer playing field for everyone.

    *Schools that, in various ways, overrule teachers and simply move kids along would show up as “improving on grad rates,” but they’d be penalized as “alum college success” and “alum earnings” both fall.

    *Educators who push against the “English-math spinach” approach and who can make a reasonable argument that their approach (ie, service learning, project-based, IB, etc etc) would show up in higher COLLEGE success (whole student), would finally have access to data to test their claims. Also vocational educators would have access to data — much needed b/c they are currently and unfortunately the ugly stepsister of K-12 reform and it shouldn’t be that way.

  3. I think we probably agree then that attaching stakes to the data is not likely to help. Although I’d love the Weingarten approach, and it is tempting to try to focus the minds of administrators that way, I’d have a hard time seeing how adding teeth would help. None of us really Discipline is a key demand of teachers, but we didn’t believe that NCLBs Persistantly Dangerous Schools data would help. Administrators would just refuse to work referrals or put them in the computer.

    We used to have some of the data on college, but there was always a lag time of up to five years. Our most valuable info came unsolicited from the state, but then we stopped getting it. We learned that our average college freshman score was a D-. Again, we could add teeth, like having Higher Ed charge the district for remediation. I’d have a hard time arguing against that, but I’d still be wary. What is the relative benefit of improving college outcomes vs. the risk of pushing others out. In a rational world, that trade-off wouldn’t be necessary, but …

    The bottom line is that we need accurate data that can be pieced together in a timely way for decision-making as well as accountability. I believe that data-driven decision-making is a greater force for good and that the only way to get accurate data is to have low-stakes data. But I also believe in the accountability that comes from the disinfectant of sunlight.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure how in the medium run we’d get data to prove or disprove the “English Math spinach” approach. There can be a value in narrowing the curriculum at times. If done well the spinach approach could have results but if done poorly or in a crude across the board way, it would backfire. The same applies to the progressive approaches that I favor.

    Here’s what we’ve been debating. If a student read skills are several years behind, create a hybrid block along the lines of Lynn Canady’s proposals, concentrate the mind, while letting the student know that he or she can catch up by a certain time, but they have to actually live up to their side of the contract. We want this to be institutionalized so it isn’t individual teachers swimming up stream in trying to maintain and improve standards.

  4. I meant to write that most teachers see dispicpline as a key but none of us looked to NCLB for help.

    Rereading your post, I just figured out what GGW must stand for.

    I can’t prove it either, but until recently our school benefitted from the in and out dynamic you described. When affluent kids in private schools would commit one too many felonies or whatever, they’ve come to us, and dramtically increase our scores. It also gave us a glimpse of the life styles of the rich and famous when they go off their rocker. I shouldn’t joke about it, so I won’t but I’m tempted to tell some stories.

  5. Do you blame drug laws for increasing drug related crime?

    If so, we’re really in agreement.

  6. John, you really have to “pull a Joe Williams” and ease off the caffeine. Otherwise this website will become Eduwonk starring Andy Rotherham with John Thompson.

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