Saturday, May 13, 2006

Discriminating against poor students?

A California judge has suspended a statewide exam that high school students must pass to receive their diploma.

Today's Star Tribune had a brief on it, mentioning that the judge concluded the exam discriminated against "poor students" and those with limited English skills.

My first reaction was "Poor students? Isn't that the point of such an exam, to weed out the bad students?"

But upon further research, the judge meant students who are economically poor. And the argument there is an interesting one.

The lawsuit claimed that many students have not had the opportunity to learn the material on the exit exam because they went to substandard schools with unqualified teachers, insufficient textbooks and squalid conditions.

Freedman agreed, saying, "Students in economically challenged communities have not had an equal opportunity to learn the materials tested."

Freedman wrote in his opinion that the "record is replete" with evidence of California's underfunded schools and said his decision applies to students statewide.

Few people would disagree that students should graduate with certain basic skills. And a graduation exam is a good way to test whether they have those skills.

But as this lawsuit highlights, if a student has not acquired those skills, whose fault is it: the student's or the school system's? Who do you punish, the student or the school?

On the other hand, if you can get a diploma without learning those basic skills, what value does the diploma have?

It might come down to cases. But it seems to me the problem can be solved by focusing on the goal: turning out an educated populace.

If a student fails the exam, they don't get a diploma: they get shunted into a high-quality, well-funded remedial program that will bring their skills up so that they *can* pass the exam.

Meanwhile, if a school has a large percentage of students failing to pass the exam, it gets scrutinized. If the problem is funding, it gets more resources. If the problem is staff competence, it gets a housecleaning. If the problem is simply a highly challenged student body -- poor, large number of non-English speakers, unstable homes -- it gets something tailored to that.

Focus on the goal: A diploma should mean something, and if students are failing to learn we should place the blame -- and the resources -- where it belongs.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Darrell said...

Government K-12 schools, as now run everywhere in the U.S., will never excel at educating students. The reason is that each school gets its students and its budget without having to compete for them.

Imagine if, say, supermarkets were run the same way we run schools. Everyone in my county would pay taxes to fund the county supermarket system; each one of us would then be assigned one specific county supermarket at which we are allowed to shop.

Of course, once in our assigned store, all the groceries that each of us gets are "free" — meaning, we don't have to pay for them on the spot. If the products and services supplied by the supermarket are of poor quality, we're not allowed to switch to other county markets; we must, instead, complain to politicians.

The managers of the supermarkets will agree that their stores offer abysmal service and undesirable products; they will assert that this sad fact is caused by underfunding. We will be warned that only by paying higher taxes will we have any possibility of getting better supermarkets.

So our taxes will rise and funding for supermarkets will increase. But quality will remain poor — and the excuses offered by the government-employed managers of the supermarkets will remain that they need yet more funding.

5/13/2006 1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

School Vounchers! This story highlights the necessity and reasons for them. I cannot imagine anyone being against them. But I know that the Democrats and liberals sure fought against them for some reason. Probably because they were George W. Bush's idea.

No, we can't be giving out diplomas that mean nothing. Stop making excuses for not teaching the children in the first place. Back in the old days, they had one-room classrooms, shared books, had no air-conditioning, etc. And the one teacher had to teach all the kids from different grades in that one classroom. And they were better educated than many students today. Continuing to "throw money" at the schools without expecting results in return is a bad idea. One that the current President has tried hard to remedy.
JP5

5/13/2006 4:15 PM  

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