Can’t fail 

New York City gave me a ­diploma I didn’t deserve,” 18-year-old Melissa Mejia told the New York Post.

She frequently cut her first-period government class at a Queens high school, didn’t turn in homework and skipped the final. To her surprise, she earned a passing grade and a diploma.

Teachers are under pressure to pass students and keep up their school’s graduation rate, said Andrea McHale, who taught Mejia at Bryant High in Queens.  “If we don’t meet our academic goals, we are deemed failures as teachers. . . . I thought it was in her best interest and the school’s best interest to pass her.”

A Virginia mother in an affluent Virginia suburb is complaining that her chronically truant daughter passed English, reports Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. The girl skipped the final exam,  but earned an A for the fourth quarter, bringing her F average up to a D.

The teacher admitted the girl hadn’t earned an A, but said she “participated in several class discussions and demonstrated that she understood the bulk of the material throughout the year,” despite poor attendance and lack of effort. The final counts only if it raises the student’s grade.

“I complained recently about D.C. schools’ giving D’s for no work to get as many uncooperative students as possible graduated so the schools wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore,” writes Mathews. It’s an issue in the suburbs too.

The Fairfax student was delighted with the results, telling her parents she might hold the world record for getting passing grades despite doing nothing. Her parents want her to grow up. They wonder why the school system won’t help.

“If she still hasn’t mastered the skills or tackled the assumed requirements for a high school diploma — such as writing a paper, exploring historical periods, reading the classics and presenting a project — she will never succeed in college,” the mother said.

The mother is planning to send this kid to college? The girl sounds like a good candidate for a competency-based alternative program. If she’s so smart that she already knows it all, let her prove it. Or she could try to get a job that doesn’t require showing up.

Quick fixes for low grad rates


Why are graduation rates rising? In some places, quick — and dubious — fixes are responsible, reports NPR.

Many Chicago high schools mislabel departing students, for example.

They were saying they were moving out of town or going to private schools when, in reality, they were enrolling at the district’s alternative schools or, in some cases, GED programs.

. . . One school listed 120 students from the Class of 2013 as having left to be home-schooled.

Credit recovery programs, which let students earn credits after failing a class, are very, very popular — and usually not very demanding.

New Jersey requires students to take a graduation exam, but those who fail can take a second, much easier test, reports Sarah Gonzalez of WNYC. The untimed test has one question per subject.

Yet half the senior class in Camden, New Jersey failed the first and the second exam. Statewide, 1,400 students failed both exams last year, says Gonzalez.  Most graduated anyhow.

There’s an appeals process. And students can submit samples of work they did in class to the state. It can be a single, graded algebra problem or a persuasive essay with a teacher’s comments on it.

. . . The mandatory high school graduation exam just isn’t a barrier to graduation anymore.

Iowa has the nation’s highest high school graduation rate at 90 percent. NPR looks at an alternative high school in Des Moines that provides intensive support to get about half its low-income, low-motivation students to the finish line.

Graduation rates aren’t exactly accurate, but they are at an all-time high, according to Nathaniel Malkus at AEI.

Grad rate is high . . . but why?

Eighty-one percent of U.S. students now earn a high school diploma in four years.  That’s a new high.

There are three major ways to improve graduation rates, reports NPR in The Truth About America’s Graduation Rate.

  • Stepping in early to keep kids on track.
  • Lowering the bar by offering alternate and easier routes when students falter.
  • Gaming the system by moving likely dropouts off the books, transferring or misclassifying them.

What’s working in Hartsville

A poor South Carolina town has the highest graduation rate in the state. 180 Days, Hartsville, which premieres on PBS tonight, goes inside two Hartsville elementary schools.

Small high schools help in NYC

New York City’s small high schools, once derided as a Gates-funded flop, increase students’ odds of graduating and going to college and cost less per graduate, concludes a new MRDC study that compared small school students with applicants who applied but lost a lottery.

Some 200 small schools were created between 2002 and 2008, usually serving disadvantaged students in buildings that had housed large, low-performing high schools.

Black males showed the strongest gains, writes Patricia Willens on NPR.

Because more students earned a diploma in four years, rather than five, costs were 14 to 16 percent lower per graduate, MDRC estimated.

While critics have labeled the Gates effort a failure, other researchers have been monitoring small schools for decades and have found generally positive impacts.

review of studies published between 1990 and 2009 found “the weight of evidence … clearly favors smaller schools.” An MIT study of New York City public small high schools also found positive effects: higher graduation rates, better test scores and an increase in college enrollment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been critical of closing large high schools to create smaller specialized schools, notes the New York Times editorial board.  He pledges to help improve schools before closing them. “Given the clear benefits that have accrued to the city’s most vulnerable students, Mr. de Blasio should not shy away from the option of shutting down big schools and remaking them from scratch, particularly in cases where the school has been failing for a long time and its culture is beyond repair.”

CCs offer very early registration

West Hills Community College District in California will let spring registrants sign up for summer, fall and spring 2015 classes too. They have to pay in advance (or set up financial aid). Those who wait may find high-demand classes filled. The college district hopes to improve graduation rates by encouraging students to plan a course of study.

Banning late registration improves success rates, but lowers enrollment numbers and funding.

Graduation rates are rising — finally

After 30 years with little progress, high school graduation rates increased by 6 percentage points between 2000 and 2010, while the black-white gap narrowed to 8.1 points and the Hispanic-white gap to 8.5 points, write Richard J. Murnane and Stephen L. Hoffman in Education Next.

Improved K-8 education, decreased teen birth rates, and lower incarceration rates may share the credit.

A gender gap favoring females has been growing since the 1970s, but it’s narrowing slightly because more Hispanic males are earning diplomas. “The Hispanic dropout rate has been cut in half” since 2000, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a conference call today with the Education Writers Association.

Obama plan worries community colleges

President Obama’s plan to link federal aid to colleges’ graduation rates and graduates’ earnings “falls somewhere between “irrelevant” and “catastrophic” for community colleges.

Private colleges that educate many teachers and social workers also are concerned.

Additional need-based student aid helped low-income Florida students stay in school and earn a degree, a new study finds.

CC success includes graduates — and transfers

Only 18 percent of degree-seeking community college students will complete a two-year degree in three years, according to federal data. Including transfers who go on to earn a bachelor’s degree raises the community college success rate to nearly 40 percent.

New measure gives broader view of progress

Federal data on college success tracks only full-time students who study at one institution. The new Student Achievement Measure (SAM) includes students who transfer, those who are still working on a degree after six years and part-time community college students.