Thursday, April 13, 2017

Is a Public High School Diploma a Joke?

We live in a world where a bachelor’s degree is the equivalent to what was once the value of a high school degree. Sure there are trade schools and community colleges that can actually teach hard job skills. But in today’s world, we are forced to ask the question of exactly what does a high school graduation degree mean, especially at subpar public schools. Especially when you consider the extraordinary dropout rates in too many large metropolitan inner cities, often well-over 50%. How many of us, who in fact attended public primary and secondary schools, witnessed kids being pushed into the next grade who had hardly mastered the basic skills from earlier grades? The system just pushes them through. And then they graduate.
A 2015 survey summarized in shows how inadequate an ordinary public high school can be, notwithstanding a few outstanding public programs (usually in well-heeled school districts); the survey concluded: “Fewer than half of high school students across the country feel they’re ready for college and careers, even though these remain top goals for students, according to a [recent] survey.
“Results from a multi-year College and Career Readiness survey of 165,000 high school students conducted by YouthTruth, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, found that 45 percent of students feel positive about their college and career readiness.
“An overwhelming number of students, 87 percent, want to eventually earn a college degree and land a career. But many believe that their schools aren’t helping them develop the skills they’ll need to succeed after graduation.”
And if you’ve ever spent time reading essays written by college freshmen at even some of the best colleges in the land, let me just tell you that you would wince. Even with spell-check and grammar correction imbedded in most word-processing programs, words are too often misspelled, grammar abused, diction strained while meandering structures and sentences predominate. Even when the writing is plagiarized! Colleges often have to administer remedial education, teaching their own students how to write and perform basic math! I once spent a few hours reading papers written by high school seniors at a well-regarded Los Angeles public high school in our San Fernando Valley. Out of about 40 papers, there wasn’t a literate or adequately-written piece in the entire lot!
But there is pressure on teachers and school districts to graduate more students. Indeed the statistics are moving in the right direction. Take, for example, the Los Angeles Unified School District. “Los Angeles Unified School District’s high school graduation rate jumped almost 5 percentage points within a single year, the largest increase in recent history, according to new state data… The district hit a 77% graduation rate in 2015-16, up from 72.2% the year before, according to the California Department of Education.
“Last year the district estimated that 75% of the class of 2016 graduated on time, which already was an all-time high. The state’s calculation may be higher because it is able to track down more students who started in the system but transferred out and may have been counted by the district as dropouts… The state graduation rate was 83.2% last school year, up less than a percentage point. L.A. is inching closer to it.” Los Angeles Times, April 13th. Impressed? Don’t be.
“[High] school graduation rates don’t tell the whole story, especially with school districts relying on an array of ‘credit recovery’ methods to let students quickly bring up their grades in classes they’ve failed… The state should also release the percentage of students who needed remedial help in college and highlight those truly successful districts from which more students are graduating without needing remedial college classes, said UCLA education professor Pedro Noguera.
“‘While we all should be happy to see graduation rates rising, we also know that it’s not necessarily because kids are better-prepared,’ Noguera said. ‘The rates of kids being placed in remedial courses is still very high.’
“In fall 2016, just 62% of California State University freshmen were considered college-ready in both English and math… ‘Diplomas should mean that a student has every opportunity to either go to college or find a rewarding career,’ said Ryan Smith, executive director of Education Trust-West, a nonprofit that advocates for high achievement for all state students. ‘With the rise of credit recovery, with some questionable rigor standards, we need to make sure we’re doing everything possible to provide a quality education for all students.’” LA Times.
All the while, the new Trump administration has appointed the least experienced, least competent head of the U.S. Department of Education since it was founded by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos, an outspoken critic of even having public education, an advocate for charter schools and private education favoring evangelical fundamentalism, is leading the charge to use taxpayer money to fund a voucher system (which historically favors religious schools).
Instead of prioritizing fixing the existing system of public education, DeVos wants to replace it with religious instruction. And one more caveat, while public schools are legally required (under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to provide services for special needs students, once someone takes such government-provided vouchers and steps into the private school system, private schools have no parallel requirements or accountability for caring for disabled students. “Legal experts say parents who use the vouchers are largely unaware that by participating in programs like [the John M. McKay voucher program in Florida], they are waiving most of their children’s rights under IDEA, the landmark 1975 federal civil rights law.” New York Times, April 11th. Thank you billionaire Trump-campaign-donor DeVos!
If we truly do not care about our future or our children, we are on the right track. For those whose children have escaped or avoided this system of inferior primary and secondary education, remember that they are going to have to live in a world surrounded by millions of frustrated and angry “graduates” wondering why no one is willing to hire them for solid, well-paying jobs, why foreign competitors are blowing American companies off the map.
I’m Peter Dekom, and without prioritizing high quality education for all Americans, our future sinks further into bleakness.

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