Saturday, May 13, 2006

High School Daze

Judge Robert Freedman of the Alameda County Superior Court has just slapped some 380,000 California high school students in the face. This is the 89% or so of students who studied hard, did the work, made the extra effort, and passed the California high school exit exam. Thanks, Judge Freedman. You've just told the entire world that a high school diploma in California is nothing more than a gold star for attendance. Park your butt in the classroom long enough and you can graduate. You may not be able to read, or speak English, but by God, you're a high school graduate.

Judge Freedman says the 47,000 students who haven't passed the exam have not had an equal opportunity to learn because their schools are terrible. This is probably true; the California school system is a disgrace. But - how many kids in those terrible schools did pass the exam? I can't find the numbers school by school, but for the kids in the low-end schools who passed the exam, this is a terrible insult. They've just been told that their hard work was worthless.

The young woman who filed one of the lawsuits was quoted as saying, in Spanish because her English is so bad, that she was happy because now that she'll get her diploma, she can go on and become a nurse, as she wants. I hope to God I'm never a patient on a ward where the nurse doesn't speak English. I wonder how she thinks she's going to complete nursing school in Spanish?

If the schools are so terrible that only 89% of students can pass the exit exam (which isn't that bad if you think about it), the solution is not to eliminate the exam for everybody, to accomodate the 11%. The solution is to improve the damn schools, and hold the 11% to the mark of completing the exam. I'm sorry, I think at least some of this is just a desire to walk up and get the diploma with friends; and I have very little sympathy for it.


  1. Anonymous7:36 PM


    This is America, where a man who doesn't know shit from Shinola is serving his second term in the White House. Why on earth would there be any standards just to get a high school diploma?

    The salutatorian from what is considered one of the best high schools in Lake County could barely write a C-minus essay when she entered my freshman comp class.
    But the most interesting, by far, was a black kid from the very rural county in our service district who had to spend two semesters in my remedial composition class because he entered as a functional illiterate, but did what I asked, obviously had sufficient intelligence, and though it took three years to get his A.A. degree, he was an actual honors graduate who eventually made it into law school.

    The lesson for me was just how unpredictable the educational institutions can be, but also what can happen on an individual level for someone who is willing to give however much effort it takes.

    All of that aside, rendering inconsequential the hard work of the students who did strive really is worth raising hell about.

    And continuing the lateral musings, gotta throw in Mark Twain's "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."

    Anonymous David

    How's that for responding off the top of my head?

    Anonymous David

  2. Anonymous7:41 PM

    "I wonder how she thinks she's going to complete nursing school in Spanish?" May I submit that perhaps this young lady doesn't think too well, since she didn't pass the test and she hasn't learned to speak English with any fluency?

    I do agree with what you say here and this is very similar to what we face on the other side of the country. An Hispanic anslaught, where few were even five years ago. Bush could not care less about the education of these people, since the sole reasoning behind letting the illegal immigration continue unabated is to supply America with a cheap source of labor. If they can't spell shit from shinola (in English), more the better for keeping them in their place in our society.

  3. You're right, of course, David. Cheers to your black kid from the back of beyond, long may he litigate, thanks to you. This is the sort of kid who's just gotten a dope slap. I was actually astounded to find that 89% of the students have passed the thing.

    Cooper, I wish I thought you were wrong.

    And what just drives me wild is that when I graduated from the California high school system in 1963, it was the best in the world, and had given me an excellent education.

    I also remember wondering, during the 2000 campaign, why the country would want to vote for a guy who went through Yale on his family's coattails, and with a "gentleman's C". I still wonder.

  4. Anonymous6:39 AM

    This, to me, is the problem with our society. It seems we have lost something when accountability becomes just another word most people can’t spell. Reminds me an interview I heard on Talk of the Nation a while ago about the naturalization test. One of the commentators said that most high school kids couldn’t pass the test, so we should make it easier. Another said, “No, we should teach our high school students better.” I am curious who this judge thought he was helping when he graduated all these kids? It doesn’t help anyone to lower the bar. It reminds me of the schools that eliminate grades so that no one will feel bad if they fail.

    On a related note, I think a lot of times school is what you make of it. I graduated from a VERY rural school; low funds, poor students, old building, you name it. Some of the people I graduated with went nowhere, some went to NASA. The effort put in is what made the difference.

    By the way, people voted for Bush BECAUSE he had a ‘C’ average. “He’s one of us” was the rallying cry of more than one stupid, radical right wing conservative.

  5. Anonymous7:41 PM

    Actually, Stephen, Bush had a "Gentleman's C" average. I believe that's closer to an "F" than a "C" in the real world.

  6. Anonymous6:13 AM

    Thanks for the info, Cooper.

    It is no wonder Bush can't deal with reality, he's never had to.

  7. Anonymous8:15 AM


    Yes it is closer to an F. It certainly signifies utter indifference to the subject matter of the course. As the cliche goes, when one contemplates Bush's intellect, there is no there there.

    And I think you've made an important point, Stephen. Anti-intellectualism, to which Bush is a proud adherent, is alive (and an ongoing sickness) in America.

    Anonymous David

  8. Anonymous6:35 PM

    What will happen to the limited English speaking young lady with the goal of being a nurse? She will go to her local community college, quite probably on financial aid. She will take a number of entrance tests and end up in ESL classes. After several years of slogging her way through ESL, quite possibly on financial aid provided by your taxes, she will make it into "developmental" reading, writing, and math. If she hangs in there and makes it through the developmental classes she can take real college credit classes at the "transfer" level. Then she will find getting into a nursing program isn't automatic. She will either make the grade, in English, or develop another career goal in the service industry. No college degree needed for slinging burgers.

    Of course, she could go across the border to a Spanish speaking country for her education, but it is more likely she'll stay here. The real head shaker is the number of limited English speaking students, with US high school diplomas, who are shocked and surprised to discover their local community college requires English and doesn't hand out passing grades just because you showed up for class.

    What happened to our high schools? I don't know, but I do know community colleges now offer classes, lots of classes, for students who enter reading at a fourth grade level, only sometimes able to write a coherent phrase, and with math skills at a low junior high level. We don't need to import low earning, poorly skilled workers. We graduate them from out K-12 education system. Did any of you read Doonsbury this last Sunday?

    In truth, the young lady may be the first member of her non-English speaking family to graduate from high school or even think of a higher educational goal. Her chances to speak English may be very limited, although it appears her high school hasn't help much either. If she speaks English at home, she may be considered as getting above herself and mocked for trying to be better than her relatives. There is no logic here. The family that does this may also be the family who wants their child to be a success in the English speaking world of job opportunities.

    Whatever, the young lady has a real uphill road in front of her. She will have to learn English, and in the long run, she may also have to move emotionally beyond the comfort of her family circle. There is a really solid chance, if she achieves her career goal, her children may be limited Spanish speakers. And so it goes...