1. The system is designed to only graduate those who are prepared for college.
You will often hear the term “College and Career Ready” when it comes to the goals set for high school graduation. But there is only one set of standards and one set of end of course exams, and they demand that a student show proficiency in college preparedness. Likewise, the GED (General Equivalency Diploma) has been changed to require the skills of college preparedness. As a result, passing rates have dropped precipitously to below 15%.
The Dayton Business Journal, using numbers from the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, based on ads posted online from March 14 to April 13, 2016, reported that of the 18,700 Dayton area ads “High school or GED education is required for 42 percent of the jobs.” In fact, if you want a job, a good job, in the Dayton area, learn to drive a truck. It’s the most available position, and no college is needed. Yet, because a high school diploma or GED may be required, you’d better be college ready, because if you aren’t, you won’t have the credentials to drive a truck.
2. The tests favor the rich.
Look at the results. If you’re from a poor neighborhood, scores will be low, too low to get most students a diploma. If you come from an area with better economic conditions, your scores will likely be high. This impacts, not only the student, but the teacher’s evaluation, the school’s ranking, and the district’s overall report card. The message becomes clear for those in poverty and for those who want to teach kids in poverty, no matter how hard they try, students are bad, teachers stink, and schools are lousy because the kids aren’t college ready.
3. Graduation is becoming unattainable for most of the poor.
The goal set by the “No Child Left Behind” was 100% graduation by 2014. That’s 100% of children who should be college ready. The goal wasn’t achieved, so the decision was made to raise the bar and require more rigor. The belief is that if we just ask poor kids to do more, and if we incentivize them, their teachers, and their schools, by withholding diplomas and giving them bad ratings, they will rise to meet the challenge.
Every child needs to pursue excellence, but excellence for one child is different than excellence for another. A child born into poverty faces huge obstacles to normal brain development. Malnutrition, lack of sleep, stress, violence, lack of stimulation, poor access to health care – mental and physical – are all things faced by children in poverty. These kids will start school with learning deficits that will not likely be made up during their academic years. They will always struggle with school, because they are constantly struggling with life. Forcing these kids into a college ready mold will break most of them. It is human nature that, at some point, they become convinced that they are stupid, and they can’t make the grade. They give up hope, they quit trying, or they drop out.
4. Schools in impoverished areas are underfunded.
School funding relies heavily on local property taxes. In poor communities, where properties have little value, schools can’t raise enough money to pay for the individual attention needed by kids going through all of the challenges I listed above, let alone normal classroom instruction.
Studies show that academics improve with music, art, gym and other auxiliary classes that round out a person. Poor schools are cutting these subjects along with access to nurses, libraries, sports and extracurriculars that rich schools can take for granted.
5. Changing schools and changing who runs schools in poor districts doesn’t help.
If you have the money and you don’t like your public school, your parents can opt for private tutors and elite private schools. If you’re poor, you can opt for a charter school or a voucher to a parochial school, but these schools seldom do better than the public school, and if it’s an on-line school, chances are you will do much worse than staying with the neighborhood public system.
States around the country have started taking control of public schools and local governments in economically disadvantaged cities that don’t seem to be working. This change in governance rarely works while completely disregarding the wishes of local voters. Two words: Flint and Detroit. I can add Philadelphia, Chicago and more.
Don’t get me wrong. I want every child to pursue excellence and succeed. I’m pleased that a large segment of the population can go to college. But, those who can never be ready, those who, because of their intellectual, emotional, and physical impairments won’t pass the college ready tests, should be given the assistance they need and a way out of high school. Imposing college ready standards on these kids denies them an opportunity to get a diploma and live a decent life.
It is this deliberate denial of opportunity that makes this class warfare.
A.J. Wagner, Ohio School Board Member