Per­son­al­ize diplo­mas to im­prove ed­u­ca­tion

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - Pat Smith, a for­mer teacher and past pres­i­dent of the Wor­thing­ton and State boards of ed­u­ca­tion, served as ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant for ed­u­ca­tional pol­icy in Ohio’s Of­fice of Bud­get and Man­age­ment and grant re­viewer for U.S. De­part­ments of Ed­u­ca­tion and La­bor.

prop­erty taxes than do res­i­dents of most other states.

Fund­ing im­pacts nearly all as­pects of school­ing. For ex­am­ple, stud­ies show 60 to 70 per­cent of what stu­dents learn comes from text­books and ma­te­ri­als, yet re­sources to pro­vide them vary greatly.

How strong is Ohio’s sup­port for early ed­u­ca­tion where grad­u­a­tion rates are largely de­ter­mined? Both sci­en­tists and econ­o­mists have warned for years about the im­por­tance of the early years, yet only re­cently has there been much ef­fort to ad­dress this need. Ohio’s state-funded preschool pro­grams en­rolled just 8 per­cent of the state’s 4-year-olds and 3 per­cent of 3-year-olds. Ohio ranks 33rd out of 44 states in ac­cess for 4-year-olds and 20th among 29 states in ac­cess for 3-year-olds.

Stu­dents en­ter­ing school be­hind and not pro­vided ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­ven­tions often re­main be­hind, con­tribut­ing to lower stan­dards, grade in­fla­tion and so­cial pro­mo­tions, all of which af­fect the va­lid­ity of diplo­mas.

Com­mu­nity sup­port pro­vides some bright spots. Li­braries, com­mu­nity groups and even bar­bers of­fer read­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for young chil­dren and em­ploy­ers pro­vide in­tern­ships for older ones.

The ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem could make bet­ter use of ex­ist­ing re­sources. Re­cently, OSU’s Ohio Ed­u­ca­tional Re­search Cen­ter showed how Arkansas uti­lized tech­nol­ogy track­ing stu­dent at­ten­dance in early years to iden­tify which stu­dents were po­ten­tial dropouts and in­ter­vene to keep them in school.

The Ohio De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion could share in­for­ma­tion on how many dis­tricts use which texts and pro­grams at what cost and with what re­sults; pro­vide find­ings of valid ed­u­ca­tional re­search; syn­the­size re­sults of district au­dits; bet­ter an­a­lyze avail­able data to in­form de­ci­sions. What about statewide col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, sav­ing dis­tricts time and money and re­duc­ing ad­ver­sar­ial re­la­tions?

Cru­cial parental sup­port varies greatly and too many times is in short sup­ply.

As for ac­count­abil­ity, fi­nan­cial au­dits are con­ducted with find­ings made pub­lic and test re­sults re­ported, but ed­u­ca­tors com­plain test­ing takes up too much time and nar­rows the cur­ricu­lum by em­pha­siz­ing read­ing and math to the detri­ment of the arts, his­tory and civics. The need for civics in­struc­tion was never more ap­par­ent than now. Our Founders un­der­stood. Thomas Jef­fer­son knew that we must: “Ed­u­cate and in­form the whole mass of the peo­ple … They are the only sure re­liance for the preser­va­tion of our lib­erty.” James Madi­son warned, “A pop­u­lar Gov­ern­ment, with­out pop­u­lar in­for­ma­tion or the means of ac­quir­ing it, is but a Pro­logue to a Farce or a Tragedy or per­haps both.”

The amount of test­ing could be re­duced, but stan­dard­ized test­ing with can­did re­port­ing and analy­ses are es­sen­tial for suf­fi­cient scru­tiny.

It’s not for a lack of try­ing that ed­u­ca­tors and pol­i­cy­mak­ers have not found suf­fi­cient reme­dies. The lat­est at­tempt is to “per­son­al­ize” ed­u­ca­tion, the mean­ing and im­ple­men­ta­tion of which vary greatly, but the in­tent is to tai­lor in­struc­tion to the in­ter­ests and abil­i­ties of in­di­vid­ual stu­dents to in­crease their mo­ti­va­tion to learn.

Well then, why not per­son­al­ize diplo­mas? Af­ter com­plet­ing 13 years, stu­dents would grad­u­ate with diplo­mas show­ing how they spent those 13 years, be­com­ing com­plete re­sumes. Diplo­mas would list not just sub­jects taken but also skill lev­els achieved, at­ten­dance and dis­ci­plinary records, ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, projects, in­tern­ships, com­mu­nity vol­un­teer­ing and scores re­ceived on the cit­i­zen­ship test that im­mi­grants must pass. Bars and graphs could show stu­dent achieve­ment and growth in re­la­tion to class­mates, state stan­dards and na­tional and in­ter­na­tional as­sess­ments.

Such a record would give em­ploy­ers and col­leges a much clearer pic­ture of stu­dents’ abil­i­ties, ac­com­plish­ments and work ethic, re­duce grade in­fla­tion and end pres­sure on dis­tricts to in­crease grad­u­a­tion rates. Diplo­mas wouldn’t be just a piece of pa­per. Also, stu­dents, be­ing aware of all their diplo­mas would report, just might be mo­ti­vated to work harder and achieve more.

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