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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

What should high schools require?

What standards should students meet to graduate from high school? asks a “wonkathon” on Fordham’s Flypaper site.

I think high schools should reduce requirements to a bare minimum, perhaps eighth-grade reading, writing and math skills, while explaining to students that they won’t be prepared for anything but low-skill, low-wage jobs or remedial classes at a community college.

Those who want more could work for a career-ready diploma, signifying readiness to succeed in a community college or on-the-job training program, or a university-ready diploma, signifying skills needed to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Lane Wright suggests a slightly different way to do differentiated diplomas. Students with a basic diploma could add certifications for “technical skills in health-care, construction, programming, culinary arts, or whatever they choose.”

Jeremy Noonan, a science teacher, explains why requiring all students to take the same classes hurts everyone.

Noonan taught in a Georgia district that jacked up graduation rates with a sham online credit recovery program. When the state dropped its graduation exam, it was easy to district lower standards and push more students out the door.

His former credit-recovery students who got a diploma are in the same lousy jobs as those who dropped out, Noonan writes. “As employers come to learn that there is little to distinguish graduates from dropouts, public trust in the diploma erodes, and with it, eventually, the economic advantages of graduating.”

Furthermore, collegebound students learn less when standards are lowered in “ostensibly ‘college-prep’ courses” so that very weak students can earn credits, Noonan writes.

High schools should offer a university-ready diploma measuring the skills needed to pursue a bachelor’s degree and a career-ready diploma for those pursuing trades, he proposes.

Evaluating schools by four-year graduation rates encourages schools to push unprepared students through, writes teacher Peter Greene, who blogs at Curmudgucation. Some students need a fifth or even a sixth year.

Mike Petrilli, who wants to overhaul graduation requirements, agrees that students who are way behind in ninth grade need time to catch up.

And states need to find better ways to make sure students are actually meeting standards, probably via tests. If state policymakers are worried about denying diplomas to kids who can’t pass, they should pony up the money for those students to enroll in another year of high school until they do.

There’s more at the wonkathon.

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