Academic journal article Education Next

Rethinking the High School Diploma: Education Next Talks with Chester E. Finn, Jr., Richard D. Kahlenberg and Sandy Kress

Academic journal article Education Next

Rethinking the High School Diploma: Education Next Talks with Chester E. Finn, Jr., Richard D. Kahlenberg and Sandy Kress

Article excerpt

As states move to implement the Common Core State Standards, key challenges remain. One is how to make sure a high school diploma acknowledges what students have achieved. Should states adopt a two-tiered diploma, in which students who pass internationally aligned Common Core exams at a career- and college-ready level receive an "academic" diploma, while students who fail to meet that bar receive a "basic" diploma? Yes, say three prominent thinkers who have long wrestled with questions of standards, testing, equity, and excellence. Chester E. Finn, Jr., is distinguished senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Richard D. Kahlenberg is author of the definitive autobiography of Albert Shanker, and Sandy Kress advised President George W. Bush on the No Child Left Behind Act.

THOUGH THE OCCASIONAL political firecracker still flares across the night sky, as of mid-2014 it seems likely that most of the 46 jurisdictions that originally embraced the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will stick with them.

That's a seismic development for American public education, but whether it produces a 1 or an 8 on the Richter scale remains to be seen. It depends on 1) the thoroughness of implementation, 2) the selection (and scoring) of

WHEN CONGRESS PASSED the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, the then-distant date of 2014 was the point at which we would reach educational nirvana and 100 percent of American students would be proficient in math and reading. The goal was never met because, as a fundamental matter, individual human variability makes 100 percent proficiency to a meaningful standard an impossibility. But there were other problems as well: NCLB did not itself

STATES SHOULD ADOPT a two-tiered diploma system, in which students who have demonstrated college and career readiness receive a "diploma plus" and other graduating high-school students receive a diploma of the sort typically granted today.

Before making the case, I want to establish the context.

First, the future of our young people and indeed the economy of our nation require that an ever-increasing number of our graduates exit high school assessments, and 3) perhaps most of all, the ways in which results revealed by those assessments affect the lives of real people and their schools.

Today all three are up for grabs. The most important thing to know about the Common Core standards is that learning what they say you should learn is supposed to make you ready for both college and career, i.e., for a seamless move from 12th grade into the freshman year at a standard-issue college, where you will be welcomed into credit-bearing courses that you will be ready to master.

That's the concept. It's a really important one and the main justification for the heavy lifting and disruption that these standards will occasion.

Today, far less than half of U.S. 12th graders are "college ready." (Never mind those who have already dropped out of high school.) The National Assessment Governing Board estimates not quite 40 percent are college ready. The ACT folks estimate 26 percent are college ready across the four subjects that comprise their suite of questions.

Literally millions of others go on to college anyway, generally into remedial--the polite term is "developmental"--classes and, often, to fall by the wayside and never earn a degree.

The Common Core is supposed to solve that problem by producing generations of high school graduates who are truly college ready. How can that happen unless the K-12 system radically alters what high school diplomas signify?

Today, those prized documents are won every year by enormous numbers of young people who aren't anywhere near college ready but have met their states' and districts' course requirements with passing grades. In about half the states, graduates have also made it through statewide graduation tests that are typically pegged to an 8th-, 9th-, or at most 10th-grade standard of actual performance. …

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