The only way to award honest high school diplomas is to give students a choice of meeting basic, career-ready or university-ready standards. Requiring all students to meet “college- and career-ready standards” ensures massive failure — or massive cheating.
I’ve jumped in to Fordham’s Wonkathon, which was inspired by graduation scandals in Washington, D.C., Prince George’s County, Maryland and elsewhere across the country. It asks: What standards should students meet to graduate from high school?
Many high schools are pushing up graduation rates by making it easy—very easy—for students who’ve failed classes to make up credits. Most exit exams, which typically ensured graduates had mastered eighth-grade skills, have been dropped.
Some entries in the Wonkathon call for raising graduation requirements, so students are prepared for college and skilled careers. But what about students who can’t and won’t meet those standards?
Community college leaders say there’s some hope of success for students who show up with seventh-grade skills or better. Perhaps that’s the minimum for a “basic” diploma.
Schools should make it clear to students that higher-level diplomas have higher payoffs. I envision a “career-readiness” diploma for students aiming for on-the-job or community college–based vocational programs. It might include certifications in specific job skills, but the key is to teach students the academic skills they’ll need to learn in the future. Some might go on to earn a four-year degree.
For those aiming for a bachelor’s degree or higher, schools should offer a rigorous “honors” or “university-ready” diploma that truly signifies preparation for college-level academic work.
Of course, schools should identify students who are falling behind in elementary and middle school, figure out why they’re struggling and give them help to get on a career-ready or university-ready track before it’s too late.
Lane Wright also proposes differential diplomas.
Currently, nearly everyone gets what’s essentially a “certificate of completion,” he writes. “By offering different diplomas depending on what the high school student has actually accomplished, we can bring honesty and clarity to graduation practices, and at the same time help children become as successful as they can be.”