Harold Levy, fomer Commissioner of the New York City schools, wrote an op-ed piece last week offering five ways to fix America’s schools. The entire piece is well worth reading. But here is a quick summary of his five points.
1. We should raise the age of compulsory education to age 19, to include one year of post-graduate education for all.
2. Use high-pressure sales tactics to curb truancy. The tactics include repeated phone calls, home visits, and the like to keep kids in school.
3. Advertise creatively and aggressively to encourage college enrollment, à la University of Phoenix, which owns the naming rights of the football stadium in Arizona where the Super Bowl was played.
4. Unseal college accreditation reports so that the Department of Education can take over the business of ranking colleges and universities. This is the recommendation I find most tantalizing. These accreditation reports ar secret. They are the narrative assessments of university programs, faculty, and adminstrations. And the assessments are peer-to-peer, so they carry a certain amount of frank talk and tough love about how an institution should improve. This would take the ratings game away from US News & World Report. To me, this is the most interesting recommendation Levy offers.
5. The biggest improvement we can make in higher education is to produce more qualified applicants. Levy recognizes that beyond the time spent in school, the tactics used to keep them there, and the inducements for them to go to college do not mean anything if kids are unprepared for the challenges of higher education. And the reality is that abhorrently high numbers of high school graduates cannot perform entry-level college work, and must take remedial academic courses before they are fully ready to perform at the college level.
In other words, a high school diploma is no longer really a mark of achievement or college readiness. Rather, it is a certificate for “time put in” or “effort extended.” A high school diploma does not attest to the bearer’s abilities or accomplishments. All it really means that the person who holds it made it to the end. They finished the race.
Perhaps we need to contemplate awarding different kinds of diplomas, as they do in France. Not every high school graduate has attained the same levels of academic achievement. Today, a high school diploma is not really a ticket to anything. By itself, it’s a meaningless document.