Raising the Ceiling is Education Malfeasance

With graduation rates at 82% in 2013-14, the highest ever for the country, there is “no satisfaction” among experts and critics. Historically, graduation rates hovered around 75%. There was little outcry because manufacturing, the military, farmers, dockworkers, and other unskilled labor were essential to the economy. Gone are those days.

As the need for “hewers of water and wood” declined the requirement for high school graduates increased. The diploma became the certificate necessary to go to war or work in the fast food industry.

Now that practitioners have figured out how to graduate more students then ever, the certificate necessary for social acceptance has changed. College or career readiness certified by an acceptable score on the SAT or the ACT is the measure experts say is necessary to meet standards.

Of course raising the ceiling is, historically, a strategy famous for exclusion. The push and pull between rigorous and less rigorous standards is the tension. States and local education agencies establish what students must know and be able to do in order to be a high school graduate. A key assumption has been not all students will meet the requirements necessary for a high school diploma. The assumption is justified by historical data.

But, the absence of celebration when the graduation rate exceeds historical patterns is quizzical. Notably, experts “fear diplomas fall short” of meeting the needs of colleges and the workplace, so there is no commendation for the rise in graduation rates. The observation is ahistorical.

Never have all high school graduates been college and career ready, yet the privileged got access to opportunity. Furthermore, the reduction of education achievement to performance on high stakes tests defies the need for students to know more than the test requires. Students that pass the gate keeping tests and graduate high school should not be denied access to opportunity with appropriate supports.

And, though raising the ceiling is appropriate, doing so without a commensurate increase in the resources necessary to meet the new standards is malfeasance. We can get no satisfaction from the new standards without the required support to warrant it.

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