Just as I was thinking about the topic for my next blog, inspiration came from a few places. I have been seriously considering applying to Harvard’s Doctorate in Educational Leadership program for a few reasons. First, the university covers tuition and provides a stipend. Secondly, if you take a close look at all of the people who are ‘allowed’ to shape and change educational policy, a large majority of them are Harvard graduates, whether they hold MBAs or PhDs. This sends a very clear message. The fact that our president has a Harvard Law degree does not hurt either. Add to that the fact that I have a soon-to-be 15 year-old son. We have had the ‘What do you want to do after high school’ talk several times and I think we will have the extended version over the next few weeks. Here’s the dilemma: If he does decide to go to college, then Harvard is out of the question for me. At least for the next few years. If he decides that he wants to attend a community college instead, then game on!
The other inspiration was Maureen Downey’s ‘discussion‘ on whether Georgia’s kids are better served by single or multiple track high school programs. One of my Twitter colleagues replied to the link and said he supports multiple tracks, as do I. But as we continued to discuss, I mentioned how some students were taking courses towards a Technical Diploma Track (now defunct) and did not realize that they could not apply to 4-year colleges and universities after graduating. This was more prevalent with students who had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). My colleague and I disagreed on this. He stressed that student are more responsible for choosing what is best for them. While I agree with student responsibility, I also believe that many students are lured by the ‘graduating in 4 years’ carrot, without any real idea of plans after high school. Again, I have actually met and taught some students who were under the assumption that they would be eligible to apply to colleges and universities their senior year. Unfortunately, many of those students were working on a Technical Diploma track and, therefore, were only eligible for technical or community colleges. Why is this important? Because, although I had only taught the students for a semester or a year, I had to be the bearer of the bad news. Not a pleasant experience, to say the least. Despite the advent of email, IEP meetings, using the telephone, or pulling a student out of class, some of these kids did not know their options. This is troubling, especially considering that SWD have the lowest graduation rate among all AYP subgroups. But we must also consider the unspoken correlations: (1) A large percentage of SWD are not completing high school in 4 years. Yes they are guaranteed a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) until the age of 21, but realistically, many do not stay beyond the age of 18; and (2) Those who do not graduate in 4 years are very likely to be among the thousands of Georgia high school dropouts each year. If we are to seriously ‘entertain’ (that’s all we are doing right now) this ideal of decreasing the dropout rate, we need to start asking our district and state education officials some tough and uncomfortable questions: Namely, what is your district doing (that actually works) to decrease the drop-out rate? Perhaps this responsibility needs to rest with separate entities. After all, if the districts cannot keep tabs on their students while they are in school, can/should we really expect them to do so once the students leave? Furthermore, many students who drop-out usually report boredom as the motivating factor. Fact: If you can’t keep them engaged, they will find something that will. I believe this is where those multiple track programs, as well as career exploration opportunities, will prove beneficial. Traditional programs and teaching methods DO NOT work for all students, those with disabilities and otherwise. Not all students learn in the same way. Unless we start addressing those needs in the classroom, we will continue to see the drop-out rates raise. Wow. This sounds a lot like the common sense approach to closing the achievement gap.
Effective for the 2008-09 school year, Georgia implemented new graduation requirements for all students entering high school for the first time. The new graduation requirements:
Area (Units Required)
- English (4)
- Math (4)
- Science (4)
- Social Studies (3)
- CTAE/Mod Lang/FA (3)
- Health & Physical Education (1)
- Electives (4)
Georgia’s high school students need a total of 24 credits to graduate, in addition to passing all sections of the Georgia High School Graduation Tests (GHSGT). You may be thinking, “O.K. what’s the difference between the new and the old requirements?” Georgia removed the ‘track’ titles, e.g. College Prep (CP), College Prep with Distinction (CP+), and Technology/Career Prep (TC). Also, former tracks had a minimum of 22-24 credits; now all students are required to earn 24 credits to graduate. Although the state no longer makes distinctions between diploma types, the class titles are still the same. Students on the CP track do not take core courses with students working on the TC track. The names have all changed, but the programming is still the same.
If you would like to look at Georga’s actual (not average) graduation rates, check out the article I wrote last October. While I am impressed by the improved average graduation rate for Georgia, the AYP subgroups (Blacks, Hispanics, ELL, SWD, and FARL) still lag behind Whites and Asians. For the 2008-09 school year, Georgia’s average graduation rate was 78.9%, up from 75% last year. Here is the breakdown for each group:
I will not deny my concern about the huge and noticeable failure of our public schools to graduate more English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities. Before you launch into a ‘People need to learn English’ or ‘How can students with an IEP not graduate’ tirade, let me make a few things clear:
- English is a very difficult language to learn. I didn’t realize how difficult until I started taking Spanish classes in high school. I will say, Spanish is the easier language. When you factor in the possibility that parents may not speak English in the home, it makes acquisition that much more difficult.
- My heart is, and always will be, in Special Education. Yes, even after days where a student was having a bad day and decided to cuss-out everyone (myself included), I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences. I have dialogued with some teachers on Twitter about how to ‘fix’ Special Education. We all have our own strategies and opinions, but we all agree that it is in horrible shape (trying to stop cussing on here). Special Education programs, understandably (to a small degree), differ from state-to-state; however, when you have noticeable disparities within a state and between district A and district B, there are serious consequences. Don’t believe me? Just look at the 41.1% graduation rate. That number does not include students with Severe and Profound Disabilities or other groups not required to earn a traditional high school diploma.
New requirements are in place; however, we will not have any comparison data until the end of the 2011-12 school year. But I am certain that, at the end of this school year, our DOE will boast that graduation rates have improved, without emphasizing average or the fact that some student groups have yet to break the 50% threshold. Sometimes I wonder if I am over-simplifying the solutions, or if people are making things harder than they have to be…… Your thoughts?