Diploma = Education?

The New York Times recently decided it was time to admit the blindingly obvious.

An article entitled “As Graduation Rates Rise, Experts Fear Diplomas Come Up Short” discusses the unmistakable link between declining academic standards and rising high school graduation rates. The article points out that more young men and women are graduating from high school thanks to the lazy expedient of simply lowering the bar so that even the least educated student can “earn” a diploma. A follow-up editorial in The Times was as blunt about the general state of our nation’s public school system as the title suggests: “The Counterfeit High School Diploma”. It seems that the pervasive disconnect between the paper credential and student educational outcomes is finally worth of note.

The net result of this peculiar national predilection for equating graduation with actual education has been as predictable as the sun coming up in the east every morning: fewer and fewer students are ready for college. In fact, as The Times article notes, “The most recent evaluation of 12th graders on a national test of reading and math found that fewer than 40 percent were ready for college level work. College remediation and dropout rates remain stubbornly high, particularly at two-year institutions, where fewer than a third who enroll complete a degree even within three years.”

Of even more concern to all parents should be the recently passed replacement to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the charmingly entitled Every Student Succeeds Act, which will likely enhance the ability of individual states—who will now control educational standards—to grant more diplomas to yet more unprepared students. Although there are certainly political benefits to opening the door to less accountability and even lower academic standards, it is exceedingly difficult to ascertain how this law will benefit our children.

The Every Student Succeeds Act is, in fact, an invitation for states to simply pencil-whip more students through the public school systems of our country. As a recent article in The Washington Post points out, one of the first actions California took after the Every Student Succeeds Act passed was to retroactively grant diplomas to every student who had failed to pass the state’s high school exit exam over the last decade. Success! I wonder whether any California education officials involved in this nonsensical decision are going to receive bonuses or promotions for improving the state’s graduation rate. I would not be surprised at all should this be the case because, of course, nothing matters more than a chirpy press release full of happy talk so we can all smile.

I would like to say that I see hope for improvement, but I doubt whether progress is possible in the foreseeable future. A lot of paychecks depend on the maintenance of the dysfunctional status quo in our nation’s public schools, so perhaps we will someday soon be asked to cheer about our country’s fabulous 100% graduation rate—because every student will have then “succeeded”.

Hooray.

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