Guest post by Steven Baule, Superintendent at Muncie Community Schools, Indiana: The debate over the Indiana general diploma and how it ties to graduation rates reported under ESSA is making headlines. As in many aspects of educational policy, there is a fair amount of controversy about whether or not to count Indiana’s general diploma when factoring the high school graduation rate for ESSA reporting purposes; other states are having similar issues, mostly on a lesser scale. The new rules from ESSA require that states only count “standard” diplomas that a “preponderance of students” earn. For Indiana, that would be the Core 40 Diploma and not the General Diploma earned by about 12% of Indiana students. According to Education Week, Arkansas is another state potentially facing issues with this aspect of ESSA. Unfortunately, the argument seems to be about accountability reporting and not providing each child with the skills to be successful in post high school life.
The key difference between the Indiana diplomas is the need to take geometry and algebra II for the Core 40 diploma and simply algebra I or integrated mathematics for the general diploma. The Core 40 also requires an extra year of social studies and science instruction.
A review in Kentucky in 2016 showed only 38% of students able to pass the state mandated algebra II end of course exam although the reported graduation rate for Kentucky was 88% that same year and algebra II is a graduation requirement. As educators, are we more worried about ensuring students master the material or that we are able to report a higher graduation rate?
The key question needs to be what skills do out high school graduates need for their future? Not what do we report to the US Department of Education. Deeper Learning is one example of challenging what a high school diploma can and should be. Andrew Hacker presents a clear counter-point arguing that advanced mathematics instruction isn’t useful to most in their careers and should be replaced by statistics or other more practical math.Ohio allows computer science in lieu of at least some of the math requirement. .Code.org, which supports the Hour of Code initiative, provides a state by state summary of computer science efforts. As the globe shrinks, we may also need to expand language instruction. The Education Commission of the States provides a summary of all high school diploma requirements. Few states require language instruction. It may also be time to review thesenior project approach culminating high school as outlined in Ted Sizer’s work Horace’s Compromise.
No matter what, high school graduation rates will be higher than they were 100 years ago, but to what end? Only 6.4% of students graduated high school in 1900 according to the forerunner of the US Department of Education and by 1964, 76.7% of students graduated. However, will the high school diploma of the future represent a minimum achievement or proof of true college and career readiness?