Sunday, June 24, 2007

What Should a High School Grad Know?

On Tuesday from 9-10 am KUOW's Weekday show will air a program about graduation requirements.

9 - 10 AM: What Should A High School Graduate Know?

"The state board of education is grappling with new high school graduation requirements. They are looking at what makes for a meaningful diploma. Among their criteria - they believe that a high school graduate should meet or exceed the standard on core subject areas; be able to think critically and logically; know how to learn continuously; and be able to apply learning in practical and work settings. But how do you turn these ideas into actions? What should students have to know to graduate? What would make the diploma a student receives more meaningful?"

They normally list their guests but didn't here; I assume they are not set yet. You can always listen to the show after it airs by going to their website at kuow.org.


Charlie Mas said...

I have participated in discussion groups assigned this question. The result we came to was ambitious. It didn't seem to matter if we were thinking of someone going on to college or someone who completed their education in high school, and it didn't seem to matter if we were talking about specific knowledge and skills, or loosely defined knowledge and skills, we set the bar high. It was like shopping when you're hungry, after a while you just toss everything that looks even remotely good into the cart.

Eventually, the bar gets sets too high for a lot of students. I know that we should set and maintain high expectatioons, but we have to give students the support to achieve them. That quickly becomes a limiting factor. We can't provide enough support to set the expectations as high as we might like.

Roy Smith said...

Adding to Charlie's point about adequate support: Some (hopefully a small minority, but still more than zero) students simply won't work harder to graduate. If more is done to make the diploma meaningful (i.e., higher standards imposed), then more work on the students' part will be required to achieve the standards, and as a result there will be more students that drop out.

I am all for raising the standards if adequate support is provided for any student who desires to make the effort to meet those standards, but I think it is impossible to deny that there are students who simply won't want to do the necessary work and won't take advantage of the additional support, even if it is readily available. Should this be a concern when setting the standards?

Charlie Mas said...

The possibility that some students would not graduate if the graduation requirements were higher because they simply would not expend that additional effort would not make me the least bit reluctant to raise them.

We owe students an equitable opportunity, not an equal outcome.

Roy Smith said...

Charlie - supposing that students received adequate support to meet high school graduation requirements, how much of a weight would you then put on drop out rates as a measure of school performance? Just curious.

Charlie Mas said...

It's not about assessing blame. For every student that drops out because they aren't getting value from school - as opposed to those who drop out due to family or economic obligations - their middle school and elementary school probably bear some of the responsibility along with the high school.

In the end, assessing responsibility for drop-outs is subjective. Like the official scorer at a baseball game, you have to make a judgement about what a person should be able to accomplish with "ordinary effort".

If the student is well supported (as presumed in the question), then the student's decision to drop out should not reflect negatively on the school.

No school will graduate 100% of students. That doesn't mean that the school's are all crap

Roy Smith said...

The central problem as I see it with raising graduation standards (aside from the mechanical issues of finding resources for more, more rigorous classes and for providing adequate support for all students) is that the unavoidable fact is that a high school diploma is now the de facto entrance ticket for adulthood. Unlike the days of our grandparents, when young adults could contribute meaningfully to society and the economy even if they only had a primary education (such as both of my grandfathers), it is extremely difficult in the modern world for a high-school drop out to avoid becoming a drain on the larger society. There are exceptions, of course, but they are very limited.

This is not, strictly speaking, an issue schools or the educational system can do much about (aside from trying to produce as few drop-outs as possible), but it probably should have a bearing on the discussion.

I am basically in agreement with Charlie that standards should be raised as much as resources and adequate support permit, but we as a society need to try to come up with better answers about what to do with those who drop out. Maybe this subject deserves its own thread, or maybe it isn't relevant enough to the core educational issues to even belong on this blog. All I really know is that the problem is there, and that I am struggling to find some sort of useful response to the problem and the questions it raises.