20 school reforms: no. 11: push up grad rates

Graduation rates have become a government obsession. Get those graduation rates up and we’ll solve all our problems. Right? Maybe not. In fact, a sharp increase in graduation rates is a symptom of our obsession with “pure” academics. This year, the high school graduation rate has topped 80% for the first time in U.S. history. Stephanie Simon, Politico, April 28, 2014.

This means that more high school students will receive a piece of paper (diploma) at graduation that does not represent career skills or a true college-prep education. Before we celebrate, we need huge gains in academic test scores and an enormous jump in elite technical and career certifications.

In my opinion, the true figure is more like 65% if GED isn’t counted and we measure the same students who started in 9th grade rather than newcomers.

To support this assertion, we need only to look at what high school graduates are doing with their diplomas. Graduates are choosing work over college. Ben Casselman, “More High School Grads Decide College Isn’t Worth It,” Heigh Ho, April 22, 2014. Most of these students aren’t prepared for college, and watered-down academic skills won’t help them in the workplace. And a public school administrator told me that half of new enrollees in career programs at an outstanding community college are former college students.

And high-stakes testing of celephant 003areer students will just make true graduation that much more difficult and keep kids too busy repeating tests to take career studies. Read The Elephant in the Classroom for more insight into true school reform.

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