I do make a lot of noise about those monkeys in Washington, and their simian counterparts in Atlanta. Over the past few years, they have managed to screw up education in such a way that it will take decades to recover. But change is on the way. Hopefully.
Ironically, the troop of baboons under our gold dome actually might get something right. There are 3 separate bills working their way through the Georgia legislature that are designed to help lower the drop-out rate while helping students succeed. Some promising developments, and some not so much.
HB 149 is basically a form of dual enrollment that allows juniors and seniors to work their way through college while finishing up the last two years of high school. I do like this idea, as it will allow those students who are ready to move ahead to do so. High school can be fun for a lot of students but a drag to others. Getting out early plus getting college courses for free could be a big incentive for certain students.
HB 400 involves having a grant program that would enable high schools to set up magnet or theme schools around high-demand vocational careers such as healthcare, agribusiness or science. I have not seen a lot of specifics of this bill, and so while it looks nice it seems pretty vague. Schools would have to opt in and apply for the grants and then establish the infrastructure to help train students in a vocational career. Technical schools and colleges would also partner in this proposal, so it has some aspects of dual enrollment built in. But both HB 149 and HB 400 will still be hamstrung by the requirements of the curriculum standards set by the GA DOE. HB 215 would help correct this.
HB 215 is the bill with the most promise and yet will face the stiffest opposition. It represents a battle between the DOE and the legislature over what a H.S. diploma in Georgia will represent.
My DOE readers, feel free to weigh in.
Basically, Georgia used to have a multi-tiered diploma system. There was a basic, general diploma, there was a vocational diploma and then there was a college prep diploma. As one moved higher in the track, the requirements became more rigorous. If one got a general diploma, it didn’t automatically bar them from higher education but probably meant a two-year college before moving higher. The general and vocational diplomas had fewer requirements so that more vocational electives could be taken. However, the DOE recently abolished this system in favor of one diploma for every student– the college prep diploma. The idea was that every student who graduates will be able to go to college. The DOE has stated they don’t want lesser diploma levels for anyone, but equally rigorous standards for all. They also don’t want all the work they invested into the new “One diploma for all” approach to be undone.
As I see it, the DOE was all wet when they came up with “one size fits all.” It was a serious mistake and the legislature is right for trying to fix it. The DOE could reverse themselves and fix it today, but they won’t do it. Therefore, we need to pass legislation in order to compel some common sense into the process. Students with special needs automatically become the brown biscuits in the punch bowl, once again. Because they are either locked out by the requirements, or drop out or simply are failed and left behind. And the students that I teach are a particular case in point. According to the newest DOE standards, a student with an IQ of less than 25 will get a college prep diploma (based on passing the GAA). A student with a 75 IQ who can’t pass the graduation test will get nothing. The gifted student with a 140 IQ will get a college prep diploma which is the exact same diploma as my student with profound intellectual disabilities. Am I the only one who sees the problem here? How does this do anything but cheapen a college prep diploma? Insisting everyone pass the same standard necessarily lowers the standards for the higher achievers and raises it out of reach for the lower achievers.
My students participate in something known as Special Olympics. The rules are modified as is the playing conditions and equipment so that my students can participate. If they had to use the same equipment and rules as the regular Olympic athletes, just what chance would they have of succeeding? Would they have a chance of even meeting a basic qualification of being in the Olympics? No. But if the DOE were running the sporting universe, every child would have to have an Olympic qualifying time or forget about sports altogether. Which is what too many Georgia students do. They know they aren’t going to survive Algebra 2 and have no use for it, so they drop out. It’s the only way they can keep from losing. The DOE counters this by saying that they can not support any legislation that waters down the curriculum. But given the provision being made for students with severe disabilities, that is exactly what it amounts to. The college prep diploma is totally watered down is now meaningless. Which means a Georgia diploma is meaningless.
HB 215 is a bill that corrects the serious error that the GA DOE made when they abandoned students with disabilities and those with non-college career goals and aspirations. Not everyone wants to go to a university. We still need firefighters, police officers, paramedics, soldiers, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, daycare providers and truck drivers. The DOE seems to be blinded to the fact that the employable skills of a Georgia HS graduate and the skills of a HS dropout are almost exactly the same! The college prep curriculum leaves precious little room for taking any vocational courses because there are so many core requirements. Even for students with severe disabilities, the community-based program has all but been totally decimated by the emphasis on the core curriculum requirements. Much of this was pushed downwards from the feds with NCLB, but much of it is aggravated by our own state policies. I notice this bill also re-implements the special education diploma track which at least makes the regular diploma look less ridiculous and makes it slightly more meaningful to those who earn one.
So thanks to our legislature for bringing a bit of sanity back into educational policy. Sometimes Georgia politics seem as straight as a dog’s hind leg, but this is one educational bill that actually deserves some support. I hope that it can be passed and is able to comply with the onerous NCLB requirements.