2 Controversial Education Policies and the Good News on Graduation

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With all of the controversial policy concerns surrounding education, there are some positives to focus on — especially in terms of progress made in the American educational system. Namely, graduation rates. According to a new report released collaboratively by researchers from Civic Enterprises, John Hopkins, America’s Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education, things are looking good in the numbers.

First, though, a quick background on education policy being batted around at moment. While not the main focus in politics today, education has seen a fair amount of political attention, specifically on the Common Core issue, a set of national education standards that have become controversial even within parties. It is considered a major education policy question, with conservatives calling it Obamacore, referring to it as “the silent erosion of our civil liberties,” according to The New York Times. Others, such as Jeb Bush, are in favor of the measure, and have publicly criticized other Republicans for flip-flopping on the matter, saying they are sacrificing doing the right thing based on political pressure.

The Obama Administration, for its part, is taking aim at teaching programs with a new source of federal financial aid that will only be given to those programs that show a few main results from their graduates. Firstly, that they are able to get jobs upon graduating; secondly, that they retain their jobs; and thirdly, that their students show an improvement in scores in standardized tests. The ultimate result of the program, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told Politico, will be that those programs that do not meet certain desirable requirements will either improve or “go out of business.” Criticism of the program — as Duncan indicated was expected — focus on the difficulty confronting those who seek to quantify the success or failures of a teacher.

The success and failure of schools examined solely in terms of graduation rates is an easier item to look at. In the April 2014 annual update on high school dropout rates and graduation progress, General Colin Powell and Alma J. Powell of America’s Promise Alliance write that, “For the second year in a row, America is on track to reach the 90 percent graduation goal. Not only that — for the first time in our history, we have passed the milestone of 80 percent of young Americans graduating from high school.”

They also make note of those issues that go beyond the school system in hindering education — a useful contrast to the teaching program and score connection drawn by the Obama Administration’s latest policy. “The barriers that block the path to graduation and preparedness go beyond the classroom. They often involve multiple, interconnected challenges — such as poor health, hunger, bullying, and housing insecurity,” problems that must be addressed by a wider community of “educators, families, nonprofits, businesses, government, and the media.”

In order to meet its 90 percent graduation goal by 2020, the report requires a 1.3 percent increase every year leading up to that deadline. While the report notes that there still remains a racial gap in graduation, with a 76 percent rate for Hispanic students, a 68 percent rate for African American students, and 85 percent for White students. That said, the rise in graduation stats has shown a 15 percent increase for Hispanics and a 9 percent increase for African Americans since 2006, a major boost in those statistical groups most needing it.

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