Graduation rates may be the most meaningless of all the educational statistics we hear about. The most cogent point from Ravitch’s Chapter Seven may be
“A high school diploma signifies, if nothing else, the ability to persist and complete high school. Certainly, all people should have the literacy and numeracy to survive in life, as well as the historical and civic knowledge to carry out their political and civic responsibilities. Unfortunately, the pressure to raise graduation rates—like the pressure to raise test scores—often leads to meaningless degrees, not better education.”
It would be a rare public school teacher from an urban high school that would be unable to cite examples of the pressure to help kids qualify for graduation when they have done little or nothing to earn it throughout the semester or school year. My observations as an employer and an administrator of the ASVAB would support the assertion that, for many students, a high school diploma is meaningless as a predictor of an individual’s ability to do a job or qualify for the military, not to mention to fulfill their “political and civic” responsibilities.
My experience with the GED is not much different. The performance on the job or on the ASVAB of young adults who have completed their GED is even more uninspiring than the performance of high school graduates.
While it is clearly not scientific evidence, my experience as a sub in a GED Prep class was surprising. Given that these students were not required to study for their GED and were doing it, ostensibly, to improve their chances to find meaningful employment, I was shocked to see that the level of motivation to study, work diligently on assignments, or even pay attention in class was not perceptibly different from my experience in many high school classrooms.
Our entire educational process is more focused on moving students along, making sure they are prepared for annual standardized exam or qualified for graduation than it is about learning. And no, this is not an indictment against teachers. Teachers have no authority to slow down to give a child more time to master a lesson. That is simply not the way the game is played nor is it consistent with the manner in which the game is scored.
If learning were the first, if not the only objective, there would be no question that the appropriate course of action when a child is struggling would be to slow down and give him or her more time to practice and more time with the teacher to help them understand. The reality is that public education is not structured to support learning as the primary objective and there is precious little that a teacher in the classroom can do to alter that reality.
I would suggest to you, that in even teachers in our most successful public schools do not find it easy to slow down to give a child the time they need any more than they are free to allow children who are performing well to move ahead on their own, without waiting for the class.
The only real difference between high and low performing public schools is the percentage of students who come to class with a high level of motivation to learn and who are supported by parents who consider themselves to be partners in the education of their sons and daughters.
Once again, we feel compelled to criticize Diane Ravitch, arguably the most well-known advocate for public education and one of the most ardent, for squandering the power of her platform in defense of the image of public education rather than shifting our focus to the substance of it.
The point I want to make to all educators and their advocates is that we should not waste a precious moment defending the American educational process or the results produced by that process. The system is in crisis and the evidence, which I shall discuss in my next post, is as compelling as it is overwhelming.
What we need to defend with all of the passion we can muster are the children who depend on our systems of public education and the teachers who labor tirelessly to do the best they can for their students. The absolute best way we can defend our children and their teachers is to examine the educational process as an integral whole and with a critical eye and then do everything we can to restructure that process in order to support those teachers and their students.