Critics of reinventing high school

Earlier this week, I posted a story on how DC is changing its high school system to allow for both 3 and 5 year graduations. Now comes the backlash to that idea from the Washington Post editorial board – Reinventing High School:

Mr. Janey’s departure from tradition may be necessary, but the reasons for it are no cause for cheering.

The thrust of the of Post’s view is that the changes are due to a low graduation rate and an inability of the DC school system to keep track of how many students actual graduate.

While acknowledging that their statistics are less than reliable, D.C. school officials say they are grappling with a high dropout rate among students in grades nine through 12. One school system report, according to Post staff writer V. Dion Haynes, showed that of the 4,207 students who enrolled as ninth-graders in 2000, only 2,740 graduated four years later. Of course, some of the students may have transferred out of the D.C. school system, but at this point, D.C. officials have no way of knowing. They do know that the system has a large number of students at risk of not finishing high school. Thus Mr. Janey’s flexibility on high school completion, or as critics might charge, his loosening of attendance standards.

The Post is apparently worried that this change will result in more kids dropping out:

At this stage, the school system cannot speak with confidence about its statistics on student transfers or dropout rates. Absent a tracking system that produces reliable data, an extended school year could augur more of the same, only with a longer time frame for discovery of the disaster.

I am very disappointed in the Post’s reaction. Their negative take on the process is disheartening. The potential problem they point is a problem now – and has only little relation to the new system (DC schools need to improve their student tracking systems whether they stick to the traditional system or not).
I am especially concerned that, at it heart, the Post’s critic is about a lack of understanding of the need to change the educational model (as I’ve discussed in earlier postings). This concern is raised in the very first sentence of the Post’s editorial:

The path to a D.C. high school diploma was once a straightforward proposition: Enroll in the ninth grade, receive passing grades, complete all school requirements and, four years later, attend graduation exercises.

The Post’s editorial board celebrates the old industrial model of high school education (and probably education in general — just change “ninth grade” to “kindergarten” and “four years” to 13 years”). The whole point of the editorial is that DC is failing properly execute this model. Yet, this lock step assembly-line process model — enter the education factory here; come out processed with a degree here — is exactly what needs to be changed.
Yes, it will require a change in the school system’s tracking statistics (among many, many, many other changes that the Post does talk about or seem worried about). But Superintendent Janey is laying the groundwork for the fundamental change needed in the system. The editorial board demonstrates that they (and many others) haven’t quite understood the direction we need to go if we are to meet the challenges of the information-innovation-intangibles economy.

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