Faced with thousands of students who would otherwise not graduate on time, the Los Angeles Unified School District is waving the white flag. In 2011, the district implemented a new academic standard requiring students entering 9th grade in 2012 to enroll in and complete A-G college prep classes. To graduate, they would need to maintain a C average or better, which would also make them eligible for the University of California.
Now, looking at 22,000 students who would otherwise be denied a diploma in 2017, the LAUSD is going back on their standards. The board voted Tuesday to allow students with a D average to graduate, even though they would not be eligible for the University of California. According to the Daily News, 51 percent of incoming seniors are not poised to graduate within the original standards.
The LAUSD is largely Hispanic, a fact that plays heavily into the district’s troubles. Not helping matters is the recent surge in illegal immigration. Students unable to speak English comprise nearly 23 percent of the district’s population, a number that has only increased since the wave of unaccompanied minors in 2014.
“I want to apologize to all the young people that did not make it,” said one board member. “We care and we are responsible to you too.”
But it seems the district’s “responsibility” to these students will be limited to handing them an ill-earned diploma. From there, it’s anyone’s guess what might happen.
Higher, Impossible Standards
The scenario in Los Angeles points to a number of problems, but perhaps the biggest of them is this backwards approach to education. Politicians eager to stamp their name on an educational program that works have pushed for higher standards in schools, hoping somehow that these standards will actually make a difference. Instead, it’s like telling a person who can run a 10 minute mile that they have to run it in 5. That’s great, but unless you have some tools to help that person succeed, the standard is meaningless.
That’s the situation we’re facing all around the country. With every government turnover, education standards creep higher. Meanwhile, students are doing worse than ever. There’s no connection in the middle. And we keep repeating the cycle instead of putting people in charge who actually know the first thing about how students learn. What good does it do to have sky-high standards if no one can reach them?
The College Crunch
But it may also be time to rethink the necessity of college. President Obama and Hillary Clinton want to make college free for everyone. But this will not only put a huge burden on the taxpayers, it will also water down a college degree to the point where it is roughly meaningless.
Not every job needs to require a college degree. There are millions of American jobs that have degree requirements that have little or nothing to do with the actual standards of the job. And there are millions of Americans working in career fields that have nothing to do with their major. We’ve decided that a college education is a kind of litmus test. But even if there’s some merit to that, it ceases to matter if almost everyone graduates.
High standards are a good thing. Phantom standards that are not accompanied by a mechanism through which to achieve them are not. What’s happening in Los Angeles is an embarrassment, but it’s an embarrassment we’re likely to see more of as educators come to an inevitable understanding: Not everyone is destined to succeed.