Monday, June 18, 2012

Hold The Presses, Boys and Girls, I Agree (somewhat) With Diane Ravitch!

OK, she starts out disparaging data--sure, why not, if you're a wackjob--but then she hits hard on a new academic fraud that's designed solely to increase graduation rates:
As the pressure to reach the targets get tougher, many districts are devising ways to raise their graduation rates that have nothing to do with thinking and learning. A prime suspect is credit recovery. I became suspicious when I first learned about credit recovery several years ago. That is when I discovered that some high schools were allowing students who had failed a course to obtain full credit by submitting an essay or a project that was written without any oversight or attending a workshop for several days.

It turns out that the academic fraud goes even deeper than I suspected.
Ravitch rants a bit about "major for-profit organizations" that run these credit recovery scams--she hates corporations, no doubt about it.  But her column shouldn't be about those corporations, because there are plenty of public school districts that run their own credit recovery scams.  And the corporations exist to fill a need created by horrible school outcomes and politicians, not vice versa.  If the products are bad, it's the fault of school districts for purchasing them or for approving them for credit recovery.
But what I saw, and what I understand has now become common practice, is academic fraud. I saw course credit awarded for "courses" that may be completed in as little as three hours. Three hours of test-taking to get credit for a full semester or even a year! I saw assessments that consisted exclusively of simplistic multiple-choice or true-false questions. I saw responses of dubious value that were "graded" by machines. The level of difficulty of these exams is shockingly low.

But this fraud works. It is profitable. It is a win-win: The student gets credit, the corporation makes money, the school raises its graduation rate, the city leaders celebrate, and the media reports the good news. And the graduation rate means nothing, and the students get an empty "education."
She and I agree on much of this, except for the problems with the "corporation".
This is academic fraud. These students are not getting an education. They are going through an exercise to pretend that they got an education so that they can graduate. The district will boast that its graduation rate is going up and up. Media figures will say that "education reform" is working. Big-name officials will exchange high-fives. And many thousands of young people will get a diploma that signifies nothing. If they are lucky, they will get remediation when they enter college. If they are unlucky, they will join the ranks of the unemployed and the underemployed and wonder why their education did so little to prepare them for the challenges of life.
She and I agree on this entire paragraph, but I'm sure that since we disagree on the cause, we'll disagree on the cure.

Oh well, this isn't the first time I've disagreed with Diane Ravitch :-)

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