Flypaper

This Wednesday, students are walking out of America’s schools in protest of gun violence. It’s projected that 2,500 schools will participate. As I scan Facebook and Twitter and listen to the parents sitting in the bleachers with me at my kids’ sporting events, one thing is clear: There is no agreement over how schools should handle these walkouts.

I have no problem with my children, though a bit young now, walking out of school to protest an issue that is important to them—though I’d certainly expect it to be an issue that they’ve taken the time to research and understand. I would, however, have a problem if their decision to walk out of school was officially sanctioned by the school and free from consequences.

Sacrifice is part of what makes protest so powerful.

It is certainly true that the movement around school safety and greater gun control has tremendous momentum at the moment and the upcoming school walkouts—and the schools’ varying responses to them—are evidence of the tremendous political pressure school leaders and community leaders feel in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

While there appears to be confusion on the part of parents and...

 
 
Eric Lerum

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

Whenever a classmate would question the question, my favorite law school professor would say, “Don’t fight the hypothetical.” It’s a good premise for intellectual exercises—like a Wonkathon—and so I’ll begin by answering the question directly before getting to the deeper issue at hand.

Standards for graduating high school

There should be just two overarching standards for high school graduation.

First, every student must demonstrate academic competency. No diploma (*spoiler alert—or certificate or credit) will carry a graduate far without high competency in core academics because every student must be a lifelong learner. Others can debate how to demonstrate that competency and in which specific subjects, but those debates should not overshadow or water down the critical premise: If a student is not prepared to continue learning, then she is not prepared to graduate.

Second, every student must demonstrate that they can apply the skills they’ve learned in a post–high school setting. Employers are constantly telling us that how...

 
 
Amy Valentine

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

The national high school graduation rate has risen from 73 percent to 84 percent in the decade since 2006, which is good news. But the veracity of this increase has been called into question, in part because twelfth grade NAEP reading and math scores have stayed flat during this time.

There’s more than a little suspicion that at least some of the grad rate increase is a by-product of the heightened focus on grad rate by states and districts over this period, which gave schools and teachers the incentive to let marginal students earn course credits. Unlike many other academic metrics, the standards for student grades and course credits are subjective, and are largely determined at the school level.

Yet ESSA doubles down on graduation rate as a core academic performance metric. States are required to include it in their accountability framework, and it is also the sole metric states must use to identify high schools eligible for...

 
 
Joanne Jacobs

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

Years ago, I was asked to speak to school officials and parents who were rethinking their district’s graduation requirements. They wanted outside opinion on what should be required.

I suggested they talk to employers who hired high school graduates and to community college instructors. What knowledge and skills did an eighteen-year-old need to qualify for an entry-level job and pass an entry-level class? That should be the requirement.

The district was trying to focus on the “whole child” and was considering adding a requirement covering emotional health, good citizenship, love of learning—stuff like that. An earnest man asked what I thought.

“Imagine a student who’s a miserable human being,” I said. “He hates school, doesn’t get along with people, isn’t a nice guy, but he’s passes all his classes with A’s. Now imagine denying him a diploma.”

A shudder went through the audience.

“You wouldn’t do that,” I said. “So don’t require it.”

That’s still my advice. Don’t...

 
 
Daniel Weisberg

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

A high school diploma should be more than just a piece of paper. It’s a promise we make to our children: Put in the hard work to earn one, and you’ll be on the path to achieve your goals in life. By that standard, we in public education are lying to hundreds of thousands of students every year.

The problem extends far beyond the handful of cities accused of manipulating their graduation rates. Nationwide, fewer than half of all high school graduates are prepared to earn even a “C” in their college courses, based on SAT and ACT data. About 40 percent of those who enroll in college are placed in remedial classes, where they spend time and money learning skills they were told they’d already mastered. And most who take a remedial class won’t go on to earn a degree.

Graduates who opt for a career straight out of high school aren’t faring much better....

 
 
Ed Jones

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

“_____’s recent history is replete with spectacular…failures. An incalculable number of meetings, symposia, working groups, and studies have been dedicated to ‘righting the wrongs’ in _____.”

Sound like recent hand-wringing of edu-wonks you love and know? You’ll certainly be forgiven if you thought the blank here was “K–12 education,” but it actually comes from Military Review. “How the Army Ought to Write Requirements” takes on the very fundamental issue of how the Department of Defense should decide exactly what a new helicopter, tank, or radio should reliably do.

K–12 education similarly struggles: What will users truly need when they get to the field? Education leaders and policymakers, too, need to revamp how they generate requirements.

But we can’t talk about that until we talk of “A,” a teen student, and his principal, Eric. Eric’s working valiantly to get 400 teens ready for state achievement tests. “A” is now—sadly, tragically, violently, wastefully—dead.

“‘A’ was fluent in...

 
 
Sam Duell

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

According to 2017 data from the US Census Bureau, almost everyone has a high school diploma. In fact, a December press release from the Bureau claimed that, for the first time in history, nearly 90 percent of Americans have successfully completed high school. Even before this milestone, stakeholders across the education world had flagged rising high school graduation rates and criticized how easy it had become to attain a diploma. For example, Molly Spearman, state superintendent in South Carolina, was quoted in the New York Times saying, “Quite honestly, it had become very easy, and it didn’t mean a lot.”

In light of these shared—and very legitimate—concerns: How can we make high school diplomas meaningful again?

For centuries, we’ve been valuing diplomas intrinsically based on what goes into the achievement itself—curriculum, instruction, assessment, and student determination. And then we hope for the best.

We’ve relied on macro-level research connecting the ingredients of a diploma...

 
 
Laura Jimenez and Scott Sargrad

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

Research provides ample and persuasive evidence that even if students don’t pursue a college degree, taking a rigorous course load in high school leads to better outcomes later in life. But far too many students are deprived of this future. Thousands of students drop out every year or are disengaged from school. Only about half who make it to college succeed, a problem only partially solved by using rigorous standards in reading and math.

Prepared high school graduates possess academic knowledge and can problem-solve, organize, and manage time. They successfully navigate the transition to their postsecondary pathway of choice.

The twenty-first century American economy and the demands of equity can ill-afford graduates who lack these skills. States prepare graduates by (1) establishing rigorous college-, career-, and life-ready coursework requirements for high school graduation and (2) supporting local innovation to transform high schools into institutions of meaningful learning.

Indeed, one...

 
 
Sivan Tuchman and Robin Lake

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

As the recent debacle at Washington D.C.’s Ballou High school showed, it’s not always clear whether graduation rates mean anything about whether a student is prepared for college or career. But when it comes to students with disabilities, we have reason to believe high school graduation rates are simply a farce.

This past November, The Hechinger Report reported shocking variation across states when it comes to graduation rates for students who qualify for special education. Arkansas is on the high end, with 84 percent of students in special education earning a high school diploma. At the other end of the spectrum were states like Mississippi, where just 31 percent of students with a disability graduated.

We dug into the data to try to figure out what might explain the difference between these two southern, high-poverty states.

Does Mississippi have more severe special needs?

We began by looking at whether students in Arkansas have less severe disabilities than students...

 
 

Despite genetic hardwiring of babies’ brains to learn language, emerging evidence suggests that different languages are acquired in different ways based on their specific characteristics. Most of what child development and education professionals know about language acquisition in young children is based on monolingual studies and is difficult to apply to bilingual children. But a large and growing number of young boys and girls worldwide are operationally bilingual—which means they receive regular input in two or more languages between birth and adolescence. Because language instruction and assessments are typically monolingual, understanding how simultaneous bilingual acquisition affects the taught/tested language could be an important step in supporting language development for young children. Does a low English score mean that a child is academically behind and in need of intervention? Or is she exhibiting a normal pattern based on her amount of exposure at home? A group of United Kingdom–based researchers believes they have made a breakthrough in the area of language development measurement that may open new avenues of education and support for dual language learners.

Their work involved three separate projects. The first consisted of collecting data on language exposure in a cohort of 372 typically-developing two-year-olds simultaneously learning...

 
 

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