Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Better Late than Never

vonzastrowc's picture

Rules that would allow schools to get credit for students who take more than four years to graduate are causing some debate. Critics of the rules worry that they relieve necessary pressure on high schools to improve their four-year graduation rates. Supporters argue that they encourage schools to take a chance on students who would drop out in four years.

NSBA's Center for Public Education offers some insight into the issue. The Center recently studied the academic performance, academic attainment, job prospects, civic involvement and health of people who take longer than four years to graduate. Center researchers concluded that:

On-time graduation remains the best prospect for students, and districts should make on-time graduation the first priority for all students. But the extra work late graduates and their schools put toward earning a high school diploma pays off—not only in academic outcomes, but in every aspect of life including work, civic, and health. Late graduates do markedly better in all arenas than GED recipients and dropouts. And, when the data are controlled to compare students of equivalent socioeconomic status and achievement level, late graduates come close to on-time graduates’ achievement.

The dropout rate is an

The dropout rate is an extremely meaningful issue we need to focus on. We are getting the most powerful feedback possible from our clients when they vote with their feet, and leave our schools.

I have a hard time hearing things like "necessary pressure," as if the only way the schools will change is if they are forced to do so by relentless consequences. We need a new spirit of innovation and creativity. We have had seven years of pressure and punishment, and we are seeing the fallout in our urban schools. Dropout rates and teacher turnover are both on the rise. Our schools should be encouraged to try a variety of approaches to get our students to graduate, and if that means an extra year, so be it. Far better to educate than incarcerate!

The current high school model

The current high school model is outdated. It actually is working if this were the 1950s. It is time for a change. Relax existing mandates and required Carnegie units and allow school presonnel to be creative in developing a model that will meet the needs of all students. One size does not fit all - particularly if it is over 50 years old.

I have a friend whose teenage

I have a friend whose teenage son went seriously off-track in the 10th grade, and failed two of his classes. She enrolled him in a private, residential 5-week summer camp program where kids re-took classes they failed, for full credit. He got credit for taking Biology and Geometry there. In 11th grade, he failed two more classes--and went to the same summer camp. He graduated HS in four years, but only because his parents were well-educated and had the resources and determination to get him through. (End of story--after four years in the Marines, he's now a junior at a state university.)

This story would not have a happy ending for most other teens. In evaluating optimum policy choices around graduation, we have to identify the ultimate goal. If the desired outcome is a better educated society (with all the attendant benefits), then it's clear that allowing extra time to graduate is the best decision.

As for the "necessary pressure"--has additional pressure / shame / data collection and analysis improved our 4-year graduation rates? No. The competitive-efficiency model of education has not produced the right results. And threats or embarrassment don't work.

Anthony and

Anthony and Nancy--

Apparently, Secretary Duncan agrees with you--kind of. According to NSBA's Boardbuzz blog, Duncan said the following:

You want to really reward the schools that do a great job of helping those students who are most at risk. So you need balance there. While [graduating in] in three years is magical, and four is great, five is good too. There’s nothing sacred about four.

I heartily agree with Sec.

I heartily agree with Sec. Duncan; there is nothing magical about four years. As I've blogged repeatedly, education in general would be better off if we eliminated grade levels and factory-model timelines and agrarian schedules all together.