With the vote on new graduation requirements looming, several educational organizations and leaders have already named specific concerns with many aspects of the Kentucky Departments of Education’s proposal. The issues they’ve identified should be sufficient to at least pause the approval of the proposal. But, the debate has become one over details which often implies a concession to the main premise. In other words, the Titanic’s course may be approved because we’ve been focused on the deck chairs.
Most agree that we need to find ways to help our students be better prepared for the next stage of life. However, we are not asking whether setting the minimum requirements for graduation is the appropriate place for this conversation. Minimum requirements should be achievable by all within our current system. A diploma should be work, but it only needs to show that a student has completed the minimal course work requirements, as our current system does. Colleges and employers all look at test scores, resumes, previous experiences, portfolios, recommendations, etc… in addition to a diploma. It’s neither necessary nor should a diploma have to carry the weight of having to certify that a child has preemptively completed the additional training, education, or development that may be required in the future. A diploma is a noble accomplishment, but it should not represent our highest expectations of education.
In fact, it is a best counter-productive to set the policy and practice for reaching our highest goals though minimum requirements. When we do, we shift the burden that should belong to adults onto children. Figuring out what type of teaching and learning most engages and challenges our students, and then training and preparing educators to implement it is an adult problem. Creating learning experiences for students that are both personalized, but also equip them for a diverse world and an unknown future is an adult problem. Finding ways to stretch the teenage need for instant gratification towards long term decision making and investment is an adult problem. Marshalling the resources, funding, and connections to facilitate authentic workplace and research experiences for students is an adult problem.
I know many hard working adults in education, and I think most would say that we are making progress on the problems above, but they are by no means solved. Our schools still don’t have sufficient or equitable access to resources. Our teachers don’t have access to the full training and support necessary to truly transform practice. Our policies aren’t always fair, up two 21st Century standards, or in the best interest of students. Solving these problems is the real work of raising expectations. Of course, children need some measure of responsibility and personal investment when it comes to their futures. But, the proposed graduation requirements takes this too far. We should never create a policy that holds children accountable for things adults should be working on.
A Very Concerned JCPS Teacher