While I was unplugged, the New York Times published an article by Motoko Rich about whether schools had lowered their standards for high school graduation. Some “experts” complained that students were getting a diploma without being college and career ready, creating a need for significant rates of remediation in colleges and community colleges.


Rich visited a high school in South CaroIina where the graduation rate had increased impressively but college admission tests show that most students are not well-prepared for college, and only about half the students had the math skills needed for many jobs today.


The implication of the article is that high schools are lowering standards to increase the graduation rate.


Now here is the dilemma. Most employers won’t hire anyone who never got a high school diploma. What do we do with the significant numbers of students who can’t pass the increasingly difficult tests that policy makers have decided are essential? If the students flunk them again and again, they will likely drop out. What jobs will be open to them? They might be well qualified to learn the skills of a home health aide, a nurse’s assistant, a truck driver, a retail clerk, a construction worker, but these jobs will be closed to them without the high school degree.


If faced with this dilemma, what should we do? Long ago, it was possible to drop out of high school and get a good factory job. Those jobs are gone.


It seems to me that it is useless to keep raising standards and making tests harder, because that will increase the number of students who won’t graduate. I favor differentiated diplomas. One, a “local” or “general” diploma, signifying that the student took all the required courses, passed them, and graduated in good standing. Another might be a Career and Technical Education diploma, signifying success in a career path. And a third might be a college-ready diploma, signifying academic prowess.


What we can’t afford to do is to make schools so “hard” that half the students never get a diploma and are locked out of gainful employment.