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5 Replies to “Eduwonk Runs To Scandal!”
Letting governors and state legislators set educational standards in their own states is a bit like letting the fox guard the hen house. Much research has shown how state politicians have chipped away at rigor over the years, and Mr. Jindal’s latest attempt is no exception.
A few years ago, I worked extensively in Arizona, one of the “tough” states requiring that kids pass reading, writing, and math tests to qualify for high school graduation. The year before the law was to go into effect, they dropped the requirements for a passing score more than ten percent. Then, the following year, they created a formula whereby kids who didn’t pass tests could still graduate through a combination of attendance, grades, and test prep classes. As a result, only six kids failed to make the grade that year, demonstrating clearly that it is indeed possible to leave no child behind if we can only figure out the correct mathematical formula that lowers the bar far enough.
State testing must be conducted by independent organizations with no political or financial stake in the outcome. What’s more, we already have good models of this practice in the NAEP, SAT, and ACT tests. Whether one likes these tests or not, it is hard to dispute the fact that they are all regarded as more reliable than state tests.
I’m not a big fan of testing. But if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right. Too much hangs in the balance when our tests are subject to manipulation by shortsighted politicians who care more about their approval ratings than they do about the fate of children in their states. It takes courage to reform education. And few of our political leaders seem to have it.
News from Louisiana is not all bad. Yesterday a bill passed the Senate and is headed for the Guv’s desk to lift the cap on charter schools. Ed Sec. Pastorek praised it for strengthening the state’s position in Race to the Top. Louisiana edu-reformers like ADVANCE Innovative Education CEO Kristy Hebert noted more high quality charters mean more opportunity for low performing students to get competitive.
We so stigmatize NOT having a high school diploma, that it seems almost cruel to deny one to students. In addition to improving the numbers, Louisiana is trying to remove the stigma, right? When they are school-age, many students can’t understand the difficulty they are adding to their lives by not graduating, or they wouldn’t drop out. To many kids, school is simply a place that they are being forced to spend their days until they turn 18.
We have to make the schools places that kids enjoy and appreciate — we have to end the boredom. This doesn’t mean it always has to be fun and easy, it just has to be compelling and truly valuable. In general, we need better teaching.
Andrew Bell has a point. But weak politicians won’t push for legislation that improves teaching. Can you list, for example, any state law or initiative that has had a measurable effect on teacher quality? I didn’t think so. We just don’t have elected officials who’s personal agendas match the thirst their constituents have for better teaching.
Making a high school diploma easier to get is not the answer. How do I know? I’ve seen it in action in states where there are different routes to getting that diploma. Kids are a lot smarter than we think. Those who might not pass a state math test can suddenly add up all the special “credits” or “points” they need to graduate under alternative diploma schemes.
How about this for a wild idea: Let’s make a high school diploma VERY hard to get BUT let’s give kids a little more time to get it. Why couldn’t kids 18-20, perhaps after a sad year “off” in the real world, come back to get down to business in reading, writing, and math? Why is the “aching need” we seem to have in this country to reward every child who shows up to school worth more than the obvious need we have for higher expectations, more rigorous standards, and better teaching?
While the LA leadership has clearly gone about it in the wrong way, a conversation about what exactly we’re preparing our graduates for is not unreasonable.
Given the choice between, on the one hand, a system that claims to believe everyone should go on to a four year college but fails to actually prepare 50% of its graduates and, on the other hand, a system that admits that 50% of its graduates won’t go to a four year college and works to give them the next best thing, I’ll take the latter.
My question about the LA reforms in question is whether the “career” diploma actually does anything unique to prepare students for technical or two-year colleges.