Much has been made recently of the nation’s dropout crisis, especially in our cities. In Philadelphia, for instance, only 61% of students entering 9th grade in 2007 graduated in four years. The failure of so many of our students to complete high school is a shocking indictment of the state of public education in this country. (RiShawn Biddle at Dropout Nation does as good of a job as anyone documenting and analyzing this issue.)
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. Is it any wonder, then, that two-thirds of African-American and Latino students who enter college need remediation? Indeed, I would argue that, while around 60% of students earn a high school diploma in Philadelphia, the percentage that are actually prepared to continue their education in some capacity is much lower.
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. Though this transition will almost certainly make the failings of public education even more apparent, education leaders in our country will need to accept the political wounds and move forward. Our nation’s students deserve nothing less.