2-tier diplomas degrade education across board - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

2-tier diplomas degrade education across board

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Posted: Saturday, August 23, 2008 6:46 pm | Updated: 12:00 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

With the publishing of this year's AIMS scores, renewed calls for a two-tier high school diploma system will increase. And with that comes the self-defeating feelgood of the proposal - along with some unintentionally insidious consequences.

The two-tier system creates two diplomas - one for those who passed their courses and all three AIMS tests, and one for those who passed their courses but failed one or more of the tests. In essence, it's a collective throwing up of the hands, a collective, "We give up!"

It says to some kids, "Look, we know you don't have the skills, but you passed your classes, so here's what could be for you simply a meaningless piece of paper - your diploma. We can't do anything more for you. And we've certainly done enough to you. Good luck."

In essence, it is discriminatory. And harmful to our state.

Here's why.

It perpetuates two qualities of education - one for the poor, the urban and the rural student, and one for everyone else. And guess who has the better quality.

It says to those kids, "You don't really need the same skills the suburban, whiter, richer kids do. In fact, we're not sure you can even attain them.

So we'll give you a way out."

It is antithetical to everything we try to tell those very kids, most especially that a good education is the key to success in our country. It is a key to, at the very least, a certain economic freedom.

But by creating the two tiers, we unintentionally direct too many students to the slavery of an inferior education.

Advocates of the two-tier diploma just have to examine our AIMS statistics to find some truth to that.

In 2007 - like every year on AIMS - a disproportionate number of poor and minority and rural kids score the worst on the AIMS tests. In that year, 54 percent of Hispanic high school students and 56 percent of black students failed the AIMS math tests, 43 percent of the black and 47 percent of the Hispanic students failed the reading tests, and almost 40 percent of all black and Hispanic students failed the writing tests. No more than 27 percent of white students failed any one test.

And when advocates go even deeper into the numbers by examining individual schools, once again urban and rural schools tend to have the most failing students. These numbers are not a secret. We see them every year.

But the advocates of the two-tier system see no choice but to say, "Sorry. Good luck. Hope you pick up those skills somewhere, sometime, some way."

In the meantime, we pay the societal costs of that attitude. And the "graduates" - who are, in part, also responsible for their weaker educations - also pay an obvious price.

No, a two-tier system is at best - and only - a stop-gap measure, one that should be implemented which much further and more careful examination, only in combination with the end of social promotion.

The policy that leads all too often to high school students who can't do basic algebra, can't read a simple passage, can't write a coherent paragraph.

Every year, secondary teachers find kids in their classrooms like that and wonder, "How did this kid get to 10th grade?"

It's a legitimate question. How did that kid get to high school? There might be many answers, but one stands out: "Because we just move them along the conveyor belt of education."

That's not to say that many excellent elementary teachers don't exhaust themselves in trying to help those students. But the system is rigged against them. Because no matter how much they help and no matter how little that effort helps the students, chances are those students are moved to the next grade.

We have to do more at the elementary level, give those courageous teachers trying to make a difference more help, give those students without the necessary skills to move on a second chance to attain those skills.

Doing what some will loudly call for - the two-tier diploma (which, by the way, we already have as a result of the Legislature's actions) - we will only ensure a two-tier system that in the future will still have teachers scratching their heads in wonder: "How did that kid get to high school?"

We will ensure a system that discriminates against the poor and the minority students. We will ensure a system that does little to improve the education of Arizona's students.

Mike McClellan is a teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

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