Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dumbing in Des Moines

Regular readers may know that I'm not exactly Mr. Get-Tough-Raise-the-Standards-No-Excuses and that I think the phrase "dumbing down" is really just so much unspeak. But every so often, I see something that makes me think that the phrase may have some use after all. Take Des Moines. Please.

Seriously, though, the Des Moines public schools are considering reducing the number of credits needed to graduate in order to try to reduce the high school dropout rate. While reducing the drop-out rate is a laudable goal, I find myself questioning this particular method of doing so. Let's play a little bit of best case/worst case.

Best case, the school board has realized that their requirements are unrealistic/unreasonable and don't actually promote student learning. As such, they are adjusting the criteria for graduation to better reflect the needs of the students. Let's hope that's what is happening.

Worst case, the board has forgotten that a high school diploma does not have any real intrinsic worth and is using it as a replacement for actual learning. If the standards really are being dumbed down in order to ensure that more kids get a slip of paper saying they've graduated high school, it's a huge mistake. The slip of paper doesn't actually prepare you for the job. All the paper does is signify that you've done the work and learning needed to be successful beyond school. Raising graduation rates only means something if being a graduate means something. If everyone gets a diploma regardless of how much they've done or know, then what use is the diploma?

Truly, we are facing a drop out crisis across the country that needs to be addressed. But let's focus on early interventions, academic help, and things like that rather than making graduation easier. Dumbing down graduation standards doesn't actually help anyone. If that's the strategy, Des Moines might not be worth taking at all.

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