Grad rates have become the education establishment’s Potemkin village
Too many schools are failing, and parents need a way for their kids to escape from them.
A couple of months ago, the education establishment told us that “U.S. Graduation Rate Hits New All-Time High, With Gains in All Student Groups.” But in the real world this is nothing more than a façade – a Potemkin village. Some schools improve their graduation numbers by conveniently omitting some low-performing students in their graduation class calculation. Other schools transfer students who are at risk of dropping out to alternative schools where, should they quit, are not counted in the “official” grad statistics. And many school districts employ empty “credit recovery classes” to pad their numbers.
It used to be that a high school diploma was typically a gateway to a college degree. Now, way too often, unprepared students spend time in college before dropping out, frequently in debt to the institution that they were not ready to go to in the first place. The situation is especially bad for minority students. Only 40 percent of black enrollees at four-year public universities graduate within six years – 18 percentage points below the nationwide average.
Perhaps the poster child for the grad fudge rate is Washington D.C., where Ballou High School saw every one of its 164 seniors graduate in June. But half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year and 20 percent were absent more than present, missing more than 90 days of school. The 2017 standardized tests showed that just 9 percent of the students were proficient in English.
Turns out that Ballou is barely an outlier. An investigation released January 28th found that D.C. schools foster a culture of passing undeserving students. The report revealed that one-third of graduates from the District’s public schools last year missed too many classes or improperly took make-up classes. A combination of teachers feeling sorry for failing students and administrative pressure on teachers to pass students if they wanted a good annual review are the reasons given for the fraud. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten weighed in, claiming that, “It’s yet another wake-up call about this flawed logic that metrics are the be-all and the end-all. When these metrics and targets become more important than learning, they create a fertile climate, an environment, for scandal and for abuse.”
Righto, Randi. If we just didn’t have those danged tests, the kids would all be Harvard-bound scholars. Okaaay.
And now the FBI, taking a break from the FISA scandal, has decided to intervene in D.C.
Is California any better than Washington? Hardly. As I chronicled recently, the Golden State, where the official grad rate reached 83 percent in 2016, saw it rise that high because the California High School Exit Examination was eliminated by the state legislature in 2015 due to the fact that too many kids couldn’t pass it. The test was hardly taxing – the English-language component of the test addressed state content standards through tenth grade and the math part of the exam covered state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I.
The state also lets school districts dump at-risk students into continuation schools, community schools, and opportunity schools, where only 25 percent will go on to get a high school diploma. These kids are conveniently not included in the official district and state dropout rates. And many districts pad their grad statistics by letting students take the aforementioned dubious credit recovery classes.
Now yet another feel-good intervention is on the books in California. The legislature has cooked up AB 705, which does away with remediation for all California Community College students, who will no longer have to make up for their k-12 failings by playing catch-up. They will be treated just like undergraduates who mastered their high school studies. The honchos in Sacramento must think they are doing the three quarters of California Community College students who need remediation a favor by fast-tracking them to graduate college. (Maybe we can get the FBI to have a look-see at California’s legislative machinations.)
The answer to the frankly criminal ways of the educational establishment is to give parents the right to use taxpayer funds to send their kids to a non-government school. Clearly many would do so if they had that option. According to a recent EdChoice poll, if parents could choose between public and private, only 33 percent would opt to send their child to a traditional district school. But as things stand now, 83 percent do. Forty-two percent said they would opt for a private school, but presently only 10 percent actually do.
It’s long past time to address the failures of our zip-code-mandated education system. Forget the FBI; we need to give parents more latitude.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.