Weigh In On Graduation Requirements

This summer, the state board of education formed a task force on graduation requirements, to “review, analyze and, as necessary, make thoughtful, implementable recommendations to adjust DC’s high school graduation requirements for all DCPS and public charter students.”

Setting aside the odd circumstances of the task force’s formation (see here), the work seems important: our city’s public school graduation rates, while improving, are not stellar. And it has been a decade since the last revision of the graduation requirements.

See at the following link what the task force has drafted thus far.

SHAPPE (Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals, and Educators) will discuss this document at its meeting on December 5 and urges the public to give feedback on the draft document at this email: dc.s.h.a.p.p.e@gmail.com.

The state board task force will further refine this document at its next meeting on December 13 and also asks for public feedback (through the link above).

Here is a helpful round-up of the document’s changes (from Cathy Reilly, head of SHAPPE):

–Social Studies goes from 4 to 3 credits with one credit of World History and one credit of US History required. DC History, US Government and the second year of World History are removed, with a suggestion that DC History move to middle school.

–Life Skills is added as a separate required course for one credit, with the suggestion that perhaps students could opt out with parental permission.

–World Language remains at 2 credits, but the languages studied do not have to be in the same language.

–Students are required to take 4 years of Math including Algebra 1 (by 10th grade) and Geometry. Algebra 2 is removed as a requirement.

–Visual and Performing Arts: 1 credit (could be either). The .5 of Art and .5 of Music are removed and Drama is added as a possible way to fulfill this requirement. Drama is currently an English elective.

–Options for Community Service.

–Provision that credit by exam be offered for World Languages and Algebra 1.

In a recent letter to the state board reps. heading the task force, DC education activist and former teacher Erich Martel highlighted many concerns, including the removal of courses with standards previously adopted by the state board and the fact that the draft did not appear to be what was actually discussed by task force members.

(Hmm: a DC task force discusses something, and then what is produced in the name of the task force doesn’t represent what was discussed, but a radical re-writing of it. Sounds familiar.)

In addition to the concerns highlighted by Martel with this approach–including giving LEAs more power to determine what is appropriate for graduation, thus ensuring entirely different standards at different schools–it appears that one DCPS high school (Ron Brown College Preparatory High School) has determined that students who fail in three quarters of the year can still pass a course as long as they get at least a C in one quarter.

All of which puts the recently improved graduation rates of DC’s schools into a new light.

Indeed, the draft document seems to be more heavily weighted toward LEA flexibility and convenience than rigor. If a goal is increasing graduation rates, and the goal posts can be moved to better achieve that goal, it can be very tempting (if not profitable) to not let rigor stand in the way–especially given powerful organizations that want competency-based standards and online learning, both of which are often promoted together by education reform advocates.

Although Ron Brown already has had a teacher casualty of its approach to a passing grade, there is as yet no word on whether anyone in DC has been phonebanking citizens to sway the state board on its vote.

But then, it’s early days until the board vote in January and until OSSE makes its final determination of what to adopt for graduation requirements.

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