Credit recovery is a scam

Credit recovery programs are a scam, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

Universal “college and career readiness,” unless far more carefully defined and monitored than anyone has done so far, is just as fraud-inducing a K-12 goal as “universal proficiency by 2014” was for No Child Left Behind.

Credit recovery is driven by the desire to give people a second chance, “our obsession with ‘graduation rates,’ our fixation on ‘universal college and career readiness,’ and our unwillingness to acknowledge that anybody might actually be a ‘failure’ (and pay the price),” Finn writes.

Whether students are given credits for sitting in class, pleasing a teacher or — more likely — completing a series of worksheets and a test, there are strong incentives to pass students, Finn writes.

. . . who sets the passing score and determines whether the exam-taker meets it? Once again, school districts, private firms, and even states face powerful incentives (as with “proficiency” under NCLB) to set their standards at levels that lots of young people will meet, whether or not that has anything to do with “mastery.” In today’s America, those incentives are stronger than the impulse to demand bona fide “readiness” for colleges and careers.

Common Core Standards, which will come with new assessments for English Language Arts and math, could set a real standard for college and career readiness, Finn writes. So could high-quality end-of-course exams. But  the pressure will be intense to lower the bar.

That would, however, be a bad thing, not just for the integrity of the education system and America’s international competitiveness but also for the young people themselves. Today’s foremost objection to “credit recovery” is not the second-chance opportunity but the painful reality that getting credit in this fashion does not denote true mastery and that colleges and employers won’t honor it any more than the G.E.D., maybe less.

I think the only alternative is to create two or three levels of high school diploma:  Brittany graduates with an academic diploma and honors in math, chemistry and physics, while Biff earns a basic diploma and a woodworking certificate.

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  1. In my day in high school, if you were deficient in a subject (i.e. – you flunked it), you didn’t have credit recovery, but either you repeated the course the following year, or made it up in summer school, or you dropped out (and those were the ONLY options).

    Awarding students a semester’s or years worth of work for a few hours of seat time is insane, unless the students can pass the mid-term and final exam material with a grade of ‘C’ or better (which is the standard that most universities require of pre-requisite coursework).


    • Of course, if passing the mid-term and final is enough of a demonstration of mastery to get credit for the course, there’s no reason to require the seat time.

      Creating, administering and scoring these tests is expensive, sure.  But how much could be saved by realistic appraisals and the cost savings of acceleration?  Creation is a price paid once, and administration and scoring isn’t different in principle than the mid-terms and finals.  But acceleration pays off immediately and keeps paying dividends.

  2. Which is why I’m a fan of either credit by examination OR a demonstrated mastery of subject matter by virtue of work history. I received credit for a course in system’s adminstration (Windows/Unix/Linux) by having been a actual system admin. for more than a decade, the instructor of the course said it was pointless to have me take the course, since I knew MORE than enough to teach the course myself 🙂


  3. Sometimes students need second chances.

    But Credit Recovery is not a second chance. It’s a Get Out of School Free card.

    Some Credit Recovery programs require five or six weekends to make up a semester class but others take only five hours total.

    So far it doesn’t raise any red flags with college admission offices if only a couple classes are taken but that may change.

    I agree with Bill. If a student flunks a class, give him a chance to repeat it.