As charter schools are better able to fly under the radar, they are also better able to ‘give’ away diplomas. Since charter schools are monitored by the supporting school district, and no district has any money, charter schools are left with little to no supervision as the school district accounting and curriculum departments attempts to attend to the schools in the district accountable to their school board. When this happens, charter schools may give out diplomas as long as students pass the requirements for graduation of that state.
In my example, I will use CA, where I live. A student must pass the CAHSEE to obtain a diploma. The CAHSEE is geared to a bit above Grade 8 Algebra and maybe sophmore in high school level English. The CAHSEE is easy enough to pass when students attend school regularly and make a minimal attempt at work – it is not by any means an indicator of success in college or as an adult, rather it is the minimum benchmark of students graduating high school in California.
A high school diploma means a student has taken certain minimum requirements of general education and it does not mean the student is ready for college. A high school diploma, in this sense is a misnomer since a student can graduate and be marginally literate in math and English. A student can in fact meet the science, history and PE requirements by the slide through method, as long as they master the CAHSEE with a passing score. In this way, teachers can ‘divine’ a grade for students and give ‘credits’ to graduate.
Teachers have over the years come up with many unique and interesting methods to ‘divine’ grades – it can be the manner in which they set up how students are graded, it can be allowing more group centric projects so the low performing students are buoyed by the high performing students, it can be merely obtaining grades off of standardized quizzes and tests. These ‘divinations’ are reserved for the non-college track students as students heading to college will pursue higher level courses which require a higher degree of literacy and math skills. The students on the college prep track are more able to deal with a competitive grading situation and generally put in enough effort to pass the more intensive classes.
Students who merely need a high school diploma can in fact ‘earn’ the diploma via teachers who ‘divine’ grades. Of course this type of grading is never discussed in polite company, would never see the light of day outside of the principals office and generally sounds something like, “What can you do to ‘pass’ student X? from your principal. This request by a principal means devise a short assignment basic enough in structure that a student can complete the breadth and depth of work for a semester or year class in one week and the student can be moved on. Teachers are never asked to do this with students on the college track as they have larger hurdles to jump such as SAT, ACT, and AP courses.
Schools can and do ruthlessly hand out diplomas to anyone who marginally shows up to school so they can collect ADA and make it sound as if it is some type of accomplishment. Sadly, not all high school diplomas are the same and not equal in value, some even being worthless. When the rubber hits the road, a student who slid by on the diploma and passed the CAHSEE, will stand out from the crowd by their absolute inability to function in an adult world as they never learned persistence, study skills or how to pay attention, take notes or problem solve.
All of this is terribly sad and saddeningly terrible to the students it happens to, believing they have a ‘diploma’ of value. What is more disheartening as a teacher is the number of times I have personally been asked to participate in this ‘divination’ of grading – most recently by a charter school in the bay area which caters to programs for adults on parole from prison. When I realized worthless diplomas were being milled out and the state and other non-profits were being billed for this service, I had to walk away. As much as it is nice to offer anyone a diploma, it is even more considerate to offer a diploma of value.
Noticing how schools, most often charter schools are able to pull off this sleight of hand truly makes me curious about the integrity of education and how we define quality education. Personally, I believe you can only have quality education when the standards you set are high enough to climb over, but not without a lot of practice on the field, a running jump and a really good coach. Raising the bar on education will mean more than higher test scores on standardized tests which test the lowest levels of learning (multiple choice) and in so doing, it will produce diplomas of value. Until such time, we will have a two to three tiered education system which touts itself as high quality since it produces diplomas.