Friday, April 11, 2008

How To Skip Class All Year And Still Graduate High School, Without Summer Class!

Lacking Credits, Some Students Learn a Shortcut - New York Times
Several things hit me while reading this piece. First, teacher unions aren't universally A Bad Thing (although I'm still very suspicious of the ones in major districts like NYC and LA). Here they are speaking up against something that I guarantee I would never condone and would risk disciplinary action to expose were I to witness it. On the other hand, the cynical side of me asks what gain does the union have to make this exposure? It could be an attempt to bolster the union's moral legitimacy. Or it could be something else entirely. The article mentions that teachers who work in these ad-hoc programs are paid overtime. While that may be substantial, it may pale in comparison to the bonuses paid to administrators whose campuses meet graduation goals --I'm simply not sure in the case of NYC. However, if so, then the teachers' union is engaging in a veiled shakedown of the system: give us more of a cut of the bonus, or else we spoil it for everyone. Again, I'm not sure here, and I may just be talking through my hat.

Second, we need to ask how many of these kids are going to do anything with their lives at that point. It would be nice to convince ourselves that these students, through dint of hard work and exposure to Teachers Who Care Enough To Do This With Them, will experience an epiphany and go on to CUNY or Columbia and get advanced degrees. And it may well be that one or two do, in fact, reach that place. But my gut says this is not true. A high school diploma is almost worthless these days. Illegal immigrants with less than ten years of schooling (in their native tongue) can earn a very decent living in the United States (hint: speak a modicum of English and know how to hang drywall straight). A significant percentage of incoming college freshmen end up taking remedial courses in basic subject areas (e.g., here and here); guess where many of these 'short-cutters' are going to end up? No, my gut says that the union is right on this: the ad-hoc makeups are in place simply to bolster graduation rates (and hence administrator bonuses).

Finally, what message are we sending? It's all ad-hoc and on an individual basis now --the keyword being "now." What happens when interest groups (or worse: pedagogy academics and district administrators!) become interested in making this standard procedure. I can see one upside, though: if the only school-time that matters is the last four weeks of the school year, we can save a ton of money by keeping the buildings shut down the rest of the time.

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