Credit Accrual Is Not an Education

In professional sports, sudden spikes in performance over a short period of time raise eyebrows.

At the end of January, only half of high-school seniors in the Los Angeles Unified School District were on track to graduate at the end of the year. Just six weeks later, the district made rapid progress and raised that dismal number to 63 percent with another 17 percent of students only one or two classes behind. Now the district is projecting that 74 percent of seniors will graduate with their required courses this year.

A 20-percentage point jump in a few months? That’s a lot of ground to cover in such a short span. LAUSD officials said the boosted graduation numbers are the result of a yearlong push to help students earn credits, particularly through online credit recovery classes.

But credit accrual is not the same as getting a good education.

Considering the LAUSD student population is 73 percent Latino, that means a lot of our children are receiving only cursory instruction replete with shortcuts and quick solutions.

A recent editorial in The Los Angeles Times casts doubt as to the quality of online credit recovery classes. If students take the full course—lessons, quizzes, and writing assignments—the entire effort takes dozens of hours.

However, this is often not the case. The editorial states some students can take a 10-question multiple-choice quiz at the beginning of each unit (there were three dozen units in one junior-level English course) —and with just a score of 60 percent can test out of much of the course material. Students can search online to help them answer these questions.

The demands placed upon students to read in these recovery classes are scant—no full books are assigned during the first semester and only one during the second, the reasoning being that students have already taken the class and completed the reading, which is not always the case. They also do not have to complete any writing assignments if they test out, and we know that writing is a crucial skill students will need in college.

Mastery of the material is something LAUSD is clearly not prioritizing. It is galling that the district promised students a college-preparatory education but instead decided to lower the bar to keep graduation rates high.

How much faith should parents place in the quality of their child’s high-school diploma when all they have to do is answer a series of  open-book (or open-website) multiple-choice questions and that counts as proficiency in English?

While credit recovery programs have grown nationwide, accountability for them has not. According to EducationNext, their quality varies and they have not been studied closely. The piece quotes Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, who said, “The field really struggles with the question of what makes a good or great online credit-recovery program.”

Latino parents must wonder how many urban school districts rely on credit recovery programs. If such programs are commonplace, then it is not shocking Latinos continue to lag behind all other groups in graduating from college.

This outraged letter from a Los Angeles County high-school teacher attests to how LAUSD is denying thousands of children, especially Latino children, an education that means more than a piece of paper.

As a high school teacher, I feel that a lot of what goes on in public education is a bunch of smoke and mirrors that give the illusion of learning. Grade inflation and remedial courses have become so rampant that it almost takes more skill not to earn a diploma than it does to get one.

I’ve seen students make up a semester’s worth of credits in a school year’s final month and then miraculously earn their diplomas. I’ve seen kids who don’t even know their multiplication tables or how to reduce a fraction pass algebra (on paper, at least). At my school, teachers’ D and F ratios are increasingly being scrutinized, encouraging grade inflation.

The message sent to students that they can make up a semester’s  worth of work in mere weeks says that schools believe it is acceptable to give students a false impression that they are ready for college.

But as a recent study shows, too many kids are ignorant as to how badly their schools prepared them for college. It hurts even more when they realize they have to spend extra money and time in college taking remedial classes.

What do you think?

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Caroline Bermudez

Caroline Bermudez

Caroline Bermudez joined Education Post as its Senior Writer after eight years as a journalist. She was Staff Editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, covering the nonprofit world, with a particular focus on foundations and high net-worth giving. She has interviewed prominent business, political and philanthropic leaders including Colin Powell, Ronald Perelman, Carl Icahn, Patty Stonesifer and Eli Broad. She also assisted with The Chronicle’s Philanthropy 50, its annual ranking of America’s most generous donors.

A proud graduate of Chicago Public Schools, she has a B.A. in history from Swarthmore College.

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