What is scarier than the dropout numbers, however, is the fact that they make our education system look better than it is. The reality is that a high school diploma doesn’t necessarily signify a quality education. Especially in struggling districts, there is so much pressure to keep down dropout rates that graduation has little to do with actual academic accomplishment: Though I don’t teach high school, multiple high school teachers in Philadelphia have told me that coming to class and completing most work–regardless of whether it is correct–is enough to earn a diploma… That is one of the main reasons why I support increasing the rigor of our education system through faithful implementation of the Common Core. An education system focused on graduation only works if a high school diploma is actually meaningful. It is a disservice to our kids to attach such gravity to an accomplishment that has, at best, inconsistent value. But by standardizing the meaning and implications of a K-12 education in this country, we can more accurately identify where we are coming up short and–most importantly–better prepare our kids for life after graduation.

Jacob Waters explains why we have to look beyond high school graduation when it comes to transforming American public education.

If correct, a barn burner of a study has just been released by the once self-proclaimed Marxist, Martin Carnoy, and his good friend Richard Rothstein. If you take into account the extraordinary size of the proletariat in the United States, and the minuscule size of its bourgeois, U. S. students are doing almost as well in math and reading as students in other industrialized countries. Even the Koreans don’t do much better, they say… How do Carnoy and Rothstein manage to raise U. S. educational performance to international standards simply by adjusting for the social-class background of its students?… Answer: A person’s social class is determined by the number of books 15-year old students estimate are in their home. To repeat: The only adjustment for social class used in this study is the student estimate of the number of books in his or her home. In 2009 a higher percentage of U. S. students (than those in the other six countries) told PISA, the international testing agency, that they came from a family with few books in the home… Only 18 percent of U. S. students say they have many books in their home; in the other countries this percentage varies between 20 percent and 31 percent. In the United States 38 percent say they have few books in their home. In the other countries, this percentage varies between 14 percent and 30 percent.

These facts are worrisome. Student reports of books in the home was found to be a good predictor of student achievement back in the 1960s by James Coleman and his colleagues, and many researchers have found similar results ever since. But serious scholars do not treat the correlation as causal, as reports of books in the home may be as much a consequence of good schools and innate student ability as an independent cause of student achievement. Students who find it easy to read are likely to report more books in their home, because they are more aware of them. Students attending an effective school are more likely to be good readers who are then aware of the resources at home. Countries that expect students to perform well on a national examination when they finish secondary school may induce higher rates of reading than countries that do not set clear standards for high school students.

In short, book buying and book reading can be as much a consequence of good schools that educate young people as a cause. If students learn to read, they consume more books and they are likely to be more aware of what’s available within the household. Further, a national culture that emphasizes learning and knowledge induces the acquisition of educational resources. Note that only 14 percent of Korean students come from few-book homes, as compared to 38 percent of U. S. students. Note that 31 percent of Korean students come from homes with many books, while only 18 percent of American students do. To Carnoy and Rothstein these data show that the lower class is nearly three times as large in the United States as in Korea. Even more bizarre, they want us to think the Korean upper class is nearly twice as big as that of the United States. If that is correct, one must expect a major migration from the United States to Korea…

The researchers defend their methodology on the ground that no other indicator of social class improves the correlation between social class and achievement. That’s hardly surprising, as many studies have shown thatfamily income is a poor predictor of achievement once other variables are taken into account. The failure of any other variable to add much to the achievement prediction simply shows that good reading habits are much more important to achievement than family income and other measures of social class. Schools can do something about good reading habits, and American schools need to be much better in this regard.

Education Next‘s Paul Peterson, skewering the Economic Policy Institute’s latest intellectually-dishonest effort to dismiss the nation’ education crisis.

Two of my children once attended a small private school in a town where we had just moved.  Early in the fall semester, another new kid at that school – a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who would now be 19 or 20 years old – had several emotional “meltdowns” as he sought to adjust to his new routine.  This unsettling behavior caused some school officials, and a number of concerned parents, to wonder if our school was equipped to handle the challenges presented by this student (whom I’ll call “Bradley”). Bradley’s teachers rallied to his cause.  They appreciated his keen intellect.  And they were reluctant to give up on him – partly because Bradley had had a rough childhood.  (His condition had been misdiagnosed for years, causing household stress that contributed to his parents’ divorce).  But there was an even greater reason for the teachers’ reluctance: Since this was a Christian school, the teachers felt they had a special responsibility to “go the extra mile” with social outcasts like Bradley… So, Bradley remained a part of our school.  And the teachers who’d had experience working with Asperger’s students helped those who’d had none.  And they all sought to teach their students some important “life lessons” about dealing with people who are different from you.

Apparently, some of these lessons got through.  One day, I chaperoned a dance at the school.  When it came time for the first number, I saw one of the most popular teen girls in the school maneuver into a position where she could be the first girl Bradley asked to dance.  This girl didn’t have a romantic interest in Bradley.  But she did have a heart of compassion – and a maturity beyond her years.  And she recognized that no girl would be apt to dance with Bradley unless someone like her saw past his social awkwardness and validated his worth.  As a human being.  As a child made in the image of God. After the dance, Bradley got into his mother’s van and made a peculiar announcement.  “Today, I placed my hand on the hip of four different girls,” he said.  These odd words brought tears to his mother’s eyes, for she understood them to mean that her socially-awkward son’s yearning for human connection, for some measure of normal acceptance, had been met in a most meaningful way that day…

I don’t want to insinuate that an episode like this could have only occurred at a Christian school…  But when I consider how their Christian faith affected the way these teachers and students treated Bradley, I can’t help but affirm the Florida policymakers who created the McKay scholarship program that made it possible for Bradley to attend a private school of his family’s choosing.  Especially since a recent research study suggests that Bradley’s experience at that school was not that unusual. According to a Manhattan Institute study, 47 percent of McKay scholarship recipients had been picked on often at their local public school – and 25 percent had been victimized physically. At their new schools, chosen for them by their parents, only 5 percent of these special needs students experienced frequent harassment and only 6 percent were physically mistreated.

voiceslogoWilliam Mattox, offering a reminder about why expanding school choice is so important — especially to those children who need to escape from school cultures of academic and social neglect.