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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Why high schools can’t raise standards

Forty to 50 percent of high school graduates aren’t prepared to pass a community college class, writes Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy. If high schools raise standards to the community college-ready level — 10th-grade reading and writing, Algebra I, a smattering of geometry and statistics — graduation rates will fall sharply. That’s politically impossible, he writes.

The alternative is to “let the high school diploma” continue to be “an attendance certificate.” That some value: Employers have (not very lucrative) jobs for people with “the stick-to-itiveness to show up for twelve or more years, take all the required courses, complete the required work and do whatever else was needed to get passing grades.”

It will take many years to change our education system to enable all or nearly all high school graduates to reach the career- and community college-ready level, concludes Tucker.

Better to have one standard that truly means college and career ready and another that means the student did everything needed to meet a traditional high school graduation standard.

Set high standards in elementary and middle school, realistic standards in high school, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli, in response to Tucker’s column. And be honest with parents about how their kids are doing.

By the end of tenth grade, students who’ve passed end-of-course exams would choose a college-prep or high-quality career tech pathway, he proposes. Their diplomas would show whether they’re ready for postsecondary education or training without remediation.

Students who don’t pass the exams would enter programs specifically designed to help them catch up and pass the threshold tests on their second or third (or fourth or fifth) tries. Those who catch up quickly can join their peers in the college-prep or CTE programs. Students must pass the tests to earn high school diplomas—but the passing scores would be set well below what it takes to be college ready.

Stop telling students and parents they’re doing fine, if they’re not, concludes Petrilli. “Stop ‘nudging’ young people into pathways that are highly unlikely to lead to success.”

He recommends this XQ report, High School and the Future of Work, which has ideas on how to raise achievement and prepare young people for the next step in their lives.

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