Monday, June 12, 2006

Education Completion - To Whom It May Concern

From Ash:

I know I've blogged a little bit on the controversy and resultant lawsuits over the California high school exit exam, but it's worth revisiting now that the kids are picking up their caps and gowns. As I mentioned before, I'm torn over the dispute: should we let kids who haven't actually earned a high school education receive a diploma?

Not having come up with any brilliant answers, I've come up a couple alternatives.

First, we could hand out diplomas with little asterisks and legal disclaimers at the bottom.

It would read something like this:

*By awarding the diploma, School makes no representations or warranties as to what, if any, education the recipient has received while at School. Receipt of a diploma is in no way a guarantee of mastery of high school academics. Further, School is in no way liable to Recipient, employers or any others who rely on Diploma as an indicator of academic proficiency or achievement. Instead, Diploma is given on a purely ceremonial basis because Recipient already planned a party.

Of course, that messes with the kids' diplomas that actually do mean something.

So, instead, perhaps the kids who haven't passed the exit exam should receive a letter that goes something like this:

To Whom It May Concern,

_________ (name) was a student enrolled at ________ High School during the period of ____ to ____ (applicable years).

During that time, the student passed ___ (number) courses out of the ___ (number) required for graduation. The student's cumulative G.P.A. was _____.

The student did not successfully pass the high school exit exam in _ English _ Math, and thus did not receive a diploma. The student's failure to pass the exit exam and achieve minimal proficiency is: (choose "A" or "B")

A. the student's responsibility, primarily because of (check all that apply)

_ consistent absenteeism
_ lack of effort

B. the school's responsibility, primarily due to the following: (check all that apply)

_ The school's faculty do not meet the minimum requirements for educators.
_ School facilities (lack of security, disrepair, overcrowding, etc.) made it impossible to teach our students.
_ Student is a recent immigrant whose native language is other than English.
_ Student has a learning disability.

Thus, ______ (name) has completed his/her term at ____ High School, but has not earned a high school education. Accordingly, we advise future employers, academic institutions, etc. to conduct their own testing of Student to ascertain his/her actual proficiency. . . but then we know how Student does on tests, so good luck with that.

We wish the student all the best, and we hope that the student has a successful future.

Very truly yours,
___________, Principal (name)

Well, do you have a better idea?

I thought these were a whimsical, Modest sort of Proposal, but then, I read in the Boston Globe that New Bedford, Mass. will be giving out "Certificates of Completion" to students who are finishing high school without being able to pass the Mass. exit exam requirements. The Mayor had first said he was going to give them diplomas anyway, but then Mass. Governor Mitt Romney said that the city would lose its state education funding if he did that -- to the tune of $106 million.

So maybe I should hurry up and send my disclaimer and form letter to the Copyright Office, before schools start using them.

It's an awfully touchy subject.

I absolutely agree with the assertion that schools in poor areas usually are the worst: they are underfunded and understaffed. And the teachers are the greenest and least prepared, and they are teaching the kids who come to school the poorest, the least prepared and need the most help. Not that my assessment on this needed more evidence -- but more came last week from the Education Trust. A study it just released found that the best teachers can save failing students from underprivileged backgrounds -- but that they aren't the ones who are teaching in those schools. The least experienced and least qualified teachers are disproportionately at poorer schools, and their students, not surprisingly, do terribly.

I don't want to punish children for the ways that society has systematically failed them.

On the other hand, while I understand that the kids want a special day, to give them a diploma may be ultimately crueler than withholding it. Because it's a lie. A meaningless piece of paper that they might think actually means something. They might not go to summer school or get remedial ed, because they think that society's well. . . pity over their failure to educationally thrive ultimately can replace their own individual achievement.

For a day on a graduation stage, it may, but for the rest of their life, it doesn't. So what then? Is a diploma just the lovely parting gift -- a consolation prize for the rest of your life?


Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

According to the LA Times, Fremont High School, a public school in California, is tonight (6/29/06) is having its graduation: of its 500-ish students who cross the stage during the ceremony, over 100 of the students will be receiving Certificates of Completion, instead of Diplomas. These students had the necessary units / grades to graduate, but failed to pass the exit exam.

12:29 PM  

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