Does it ever seem like the federal government is playing the role of Lucy, holding the football for Charlie Brown to kick, then always pulling it away at the last minute? Uh huh. And guess who Charlie Brown is?
Indiana has been struggling for years to get its high school graduation rate to an acceptable level, and it has met with some success. Now, thanks to a simple rule change by Washington, its graduation rate will tumble, and as a result schools' ratings could fall as well.
Under the relatively new Every Student Succeeds Act (which certainly sounds like a football worthy to be kicked through the goalposts), graduation rates must be calculated uniformly across all states. In Indiana, that means the “general diploma” granted by our high schools can no longer be counted toward graduation rates.
This matters a lot. The general diploma is a pared-down option typically earned by students who struggle academically or those with special needs. Advocates say it's the best option for those who want to earn a diploma but can't handle the more rigorous Core 40 program designed for students going on to college or trying to qualify for most jobs.
In 2016, 12.2 percent of students earned a general diploma — that was 8,600 students from 450 high schools. If a particular school's graduation rate drops enough because of those diplomas, it could cause its A-F grade to take a hit. Poor grades could lead to state intervention at public schools or non-renewal for charter schools.
Don't misunderstand. There is a legitimate debate over whether to offer a general degree and how much to emphasize it if it is offered. Students who simply can't achieve at higher levels need to be challenged and focused, but those students aspiring to go on to bigger things can't be neglected, either.
That's a delicate balancing act that should be handled at the state level, and a good argument can be made that superintendents and school boards at the local level should also have a lot of input. It is not something the federal government should swoop in and order changed overnight. The first unintended consequence (and there will likely be many) is that schools will focus more intently on higher academics and leave those who are challenged even further behind.
Just how would that fit into the “every student succeeds” plan?