While Hoosiers are arguing over how to count high school dropouts, the New York Times reported last week that an increasing number of students are showing up at two year colleges unprepared. Roughly 20% of high school graduates are capable of doing college-level work. Everyone else ends up in remedial classes.
I have a cousin who’s in this boat. The family had a fit for her to graduate from high school, but nobody bothered to check her basic literacy skills. She’s working on her second semester at Ivy Tech where she mostly takes remedial English and Math courses. The sad thing is that I don’t think that she or the family even realizes that she’s not taking college level courses. She just shows up and takes whatever classes they tell her to take.
Graduating from high school isn’t enough. I don’t pretend to have a solution, but I know that arguing over how to count dropouts is a very small piece of this puzzle. We need to take a bigger picture perspective and figure out ways to engage students. For starters, we need to put books in students’ hands and expect them to read. We need to teach grammar every year. We need to stop pretending that walking across the gymnasium floor and picking up a diploma is akin to learning.
I don’t want to encourage people to drop out, because I don’t think that’s the solution either. But lowering the standards so everybody graduates doesn’t work either. I know that part of the problem in my family, which is blue collar and working poor, is an assumption that diploma = success. It doesn’t work that way. Sure, having a diploma or a college degree opens doors, but you have to know how to walk through those doors. Too many people are totally unprepared.