Dropout and Diploma Factories

That diploma should have meaning.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commented a little over a week ago that "the new “Building a Grad Nation” report ought to be required reading for those who believe that the high school dropout problem is too intractable to successfully take on." Results were promising: more than 900 of the 2,000 high schools that were classified as dropout factories in 2002 no longer met that criteria in 2008. This is wonderful news and a positive piece when it seems so cloudy in the world. Ensuring that students graduate with a sustainable high school diploma is necessary for our country to achieve other goals. Focusing on closing or fixing dropout factories has a positive effect, it would seem.

Unless, of course, schools are manipulating results. The 'results' are students that leave the doors with high school diplomas. Do we have schools that pass students so they stay off radar, or more dropout factories than statistics show? If students simply attend class most of the time, it is possible that teachers pass them. It is also feasible that administrators pressure teachers to pass students. With pressures from the state and now with increased national attention, students and parents understand that schools need to produce passing results. They in turn pressure schools to give passing grades, attendance or not.

Not all manipulatives are that deliberate or twisted. Education has many routines in place to prevent dropouts. For instance, high schools offer remediation classes. The cases of remediating students are not the reference here. Instead, students are passed because they completed the work, not because they truly earned a passing grade. Other times, students allowed to turn in extra assignments, stay after the school year ends to help teachers with nonacademic work to earn a diploma. (Need extra math points? Want to paint the bleachers?) Such practices have occurred for decades, yet with increased attention on "Building a Grad Nation" it may be time to take a look at what constitutes a high school diploma. This may be where a national or state graduation test comes in, such as in Ohio.

By passing students rather than truly remediating them, schools are not providing students with a sustainable education, and are cheating them out of lessons that come from failure. Similarly, simply passing students without the pretense of remediation causes the same problems. Students are not learning ideas or life long skills-they are learning how to manipulate situations. Furthermore, the importance of a high school diploma decreases. A high school diploma should hold meaning, not be a rite of passage. These situations are not new, but with the focus on eliminating dropout factories, we should not create diploma factories either.

Photo Credit: Josh Parrish