Allow me to be blunt: credit recovery is a scam. It's a huge money-maker for the online companies who offer the programs, and it's a lie to the taxpayers who are supposed to celebrate when graduation rates go up (even as learning goes down). It's very name, credit recovery, tells you where the emphasis is, and it's certainly not on education. We in this field should stand against this blatant lying--lying to the taxpayer, to the employer who thinks a high school graduate has some minimal learning, to the student him/herself--but our administrators worship at the altar of credit recovery as if it were the Golden Calf itself. What should be a disgrace to our profession is instead given a perverse place of honor as a savior of the very students it is purported to help.
Perhaps you're not in the education field, perhaps you think I'm exaggerating. I'm not:
Many other districts stopped short of outright fraud, opting to juice the graduation rate by expanding credit recovery programs with exceptionally low standards, allowing students to sit in front of a computer and effectively shotgun enough credits to be granted a diploma.
This fakery and inflation has significant, if unmeasurable, costs. Off record, teachers speak of its depressing effects on the classroom: students who try hard become demotivated when they see slackers receiving equal credit, and slackers put forth even less effort when they realize they don’t have to. Students lose respect for the school when they realize that whether they learn enough to graduate matters less than whether adults can take credit for their graduation.
Second, graduation inflation does significant harm to students who – despite all the standard-lowering – don’t graduate. Education advocates argue that students need a high school diploma to be employable in the 21stcentury. But this is a self-fulfilling policy driven by credentialism, not skill acquisition.
In a city where 50 percent of students graduate, employers would not automatically stigmatize half of its young adult workforce. But in a city where 90 percent of students graduate, employers would have good reason to suspect that there is something wrong with the 10 percent who don’t. Shut out of the labor market, those young adults will have few opportunities other than crime. Unless schools are actually equipping at-risk students with more skills, graduation inflation will streamline the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Third, graduation inflation allows activists to pass off destructive policies as effective reforms. Putting students in front of screens all day may do nothing to boost academic achievement even as it makes them more depressed and anxious-- but graduation rates are up so it worked! Reducing suspensions may harm academic achievement and make classrooms more chaotic– but graduation rates are up so it worked! As American schools implemented the Common Core and test-based teacher evaluations, academic achievement for low-performing students saw an unprecedented drop– but graduation rates are up so it worked!
Graduation inflation is an excellent case study in what some call “structural oppression” or “institutional racism.” Self-interested politicians, privileged advocates, and lazy journalists all have their own status incentives to promote and cheerlead graduation inflation. They’re all, perhaps, largely unconscious of how their policies and rhetoric perpetuate racial inequity.