So the news has been flooded with headlines about how national graduation rates from public schools are up to a level not seen in nearly 40 years:
More than 3.1 million high school students received their diplomas in spring 2010, with 78.2 percent finishing in four years, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported Tuesday. The rate is a 2.7-percentage-point increase over the previous year, and those two rates are the highest since the 75 percent rate in 1975 and 1976.
This is not the cause for celebration that the media is making it out to be. If we look at the cheating scandals in D.C. and Atlanta we see the greasy underbelly of the motor driving these graduation rates.
Public schools have been bludgeoned into accepting so-called “accountability” programs that have held teachers responsible for tests scores and pass rates. We drill and kill for exams that seem to get just a tad easier every year. We overlook behavior issues and shoddy scholarship as a shortcut to getting kids to pass. Our jobs as teachers have increasingly involved getting students to fill in the correct bubbles in a certain 3-hour span, the rest of the education process be damned.
This isn’t due to anything we have done as teachers. Our educational leaders, from the Secretary of Education on down, have done everything in their power to put this system into place. With their myopic interpretation of what counts for “achievement”, they have reduced the learning process to a series of numbers and the teaching profession to a series of steps to color within these numbers. So now we focus on the “data” instead of the child; the “value” we “add” instead of what our communities teach our children to value.
Of course we would have high graduation rates in this type of environment. We have become adept at manipulating numbers because our jobs depend on it. The Secretary of Education, the governors, mayors, chancellors, superintendents and principals all need the numbers to go up. The testing companies and data-collection companies need to show that the numbers are going up. All of these entities require the numbers to go up in order to justify their influence. They have been in control of America’s education systems for so long that the numbers better have gone up by now.
The fix was in ever since the appearance of this thing called “education reform”. They came to us and said schools were not doing our jobs. They said they were taking over the schools and running them like businesses. They expected results and they were going to get them. It was foreordained that graduation rates would reach such high levels. They made all of us conspirators in their game of reform. The teachers were taken into a shotgun marriage that tied the survival of the educational leaders to the survival of teachers.
“If these test scores don’t rise, we won’t be around long. But we will make sure that you also will not be around long.” This was the Faustian bargain with which reformers presented teachers. Stand up against the system by not teaching to the test or by exercising your union rights and you go down. Play the game and get the numbers up and we will feature you as one of our success stories, as one of the “good ones”. Everyone wins. Teachers get to keep their jobs. Reformers get to say that their policies work.
And what type of graduates do we have? We have graduates who have been trained to bubble in answers. We have graduates that need an increasing amount of remedial classes once they get to college. This is exactly the type of graduate one would expect from a school system run on the business model: one-dimensional, unskilled and mass produced. They are light plastic cogs to be used in a giant machine, easily tossed aside and replaced when they get used up.
And what type of world are our graduates entering? One with proliferating low-wage jobs touted as “job recovery”. One where food stamp rolls, college debt and poverty are rising. This isn’t the bright open future baby-boomers saw on the horizon. Today’s graduates are inheriting a world of diminishing limits. The future is dark and small.
What more can we expect? We have concentrated on getting “achievement” as measured in “data” so much higher because the schools weren’t preparing children for “the future”. In the process, we have neglected to prepare a future for our children to inherit. The ones who would create the future for our children took over the school system and prepared them for exactly the type of future they had in store.
Blank graduates for a blank future.
Education reform is not about improving schools. It is about hollowing out the schools because the future will be hollow. These new graduation statistics are just the results of that.
So no need to be happy. It is the low tide of education reform leaving behind the effluvia they created.