Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Few Thoughts on the Governor's Graduation Initiative

Like everybody else, I applaud Governor Richardson for gathering his political energy on the subject of high school graduation. The New Mexico graduation rate is awful. Yesterday's announcement was evidently only the beginning of an 8-step plan that, besides graduation, will tackle the achievement gap that currently exists between whites/economically privileged and people of color/economically disadvantaged.

Like I said. Good. Let's get to work.

That being said, I just want to point out a few obvious things, as we teachers are want to do, on what a serious attempt to deal with these matters entails.
  • There is a tendency to think student achievement and grades go hand in hand with academic rigor and standards. But they can actually go in completely opposite directions. If we become so concerned with retaining all students that we are willing to employ grade inflation, watered-down academic expectations and curricula that don't properly prepare for either college or the workplace, high school diplomas won't mean anything. Even at our current level of grades/standards, many New Mexico students who go to college have to take remedial classes in subjects such as Math.
  • The Governor wants to do a much better job of tracking dropouts, identifying them and returning them to school. Okay, but once back at school we need to give these students something to do. Something that appeals to them and will keep them in school. One thing to consider would be an expansion of non-college track trades programs. For example, how about a solar power system installation program at Albuquerque High School? Now it is very possible the Governor already has plans for an expansion of trades training. Great. Just keep in mind that it will cost money to create/run these programs, money probably far beyond the $8.9 million figure being spouted yesterday.
  • Speaking of money, if the Governor's plan is successful and we get 10,000 current drop outs back in school we have to spend money not only tracking and returning them, but must pay for additional teachers needed because these students are back in school. Some schools will also need additional classrooms.
  • And again, yes AGAIN, speaking of money, retaining high school students is about more than dangling a diploma and the hazy lure of a good job down the road. Perhaps New Mexico could pursue some sort of tangible monetary incentive program as I brought up in my last post to offer more immediate benefits to these students.
  • NM Education Secretary Veronica Garcia yesterday touched on the need for a "cultural shift" when it comes to valuing graduation from high school. She also mentioned the need for "outreach" to help achieve this cultural shift. A Public Service Announcement campaign was even mentioned. While I agree PSA might help in this regard, I just want to make sure the State doesn't spend the simple money on things like PSA campaigns and "tracking" dropouts, without spending the much harder money on things mentioned above. To be honest, leaving it up to PSAs scares me.
  • Lastly, with increased, and very needed, focus on this area we need to avoid losing focus in other areas. Many high schools now are bifurcated institutions. There is one de facto school for college prep, and one de facto school for kids the teachers/parents/administrators are just hoping graduate. If the latter de facto school grows, it must not be at the expense of the college prep school. When the actual dollars and energy start flying here, it's gonna be real hard to avoid robbing college prep school to pay "c'mon let's graduate!" school.
As the Governor's/Secretary's comments yesterday concerned the graduation problem, I'll leave, as they did, the achievement gap issue for another time.


Anonymous said...

Let's do a little math: 8.9 million and 10,000 students. That's 890 dollars per student. Take away the administrative overhead and you'll be lucky to have 500 dollars per student.

Not enough funding!

Also, why do we wait for headlines of poor graduation to do something? We've known these numbers for many, many years.

steve said...

I know there are few incentives for staying in school except the promise of a better life at some future time. Well, for a drop out, they don't see a future, only the problems of the present that will be solved best by working instead of going to school. I'm not sure what program, or whether even paying students will solve this problem. I do know that expecting everyone to go to college is unrealistic and not even desirable. Making highschool curriculum (and now middle school also) around the idea that everyone is going to college is flat-out stupid. Making at-risk high school kids take reading courses and remedial math just makes a bad problem worse. I would drop out before being subjected to a humiliating scripted reading course.

Anonymous said...

Ah Billy boy, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. All window dressing no substance.