Kids stumble in middle school, self-destruct in high schools and begin to fail subjects; reading and math skills two or three years below grade with Regents exams on the horizon, school is hard, really hard. The frustrations may lead to cutting classes or cutting school, a diploma moves further and further away. The light bulb suddenly pops! Without a diploma I can’t get a good job, I can’t even join the military; however, it’ll take me five or six years to collect the credits I missed. Some kids find a transfer high school, schools designed for kids with limited credits. For others perhaps the GED, whoops, the GED is gone; New York State has replaced the GED with another exam, TASC, a test aligned to the common core. I’m eighteen year old, how can I earn a high school diploma?
About a dozen years ago I worked with a not-for-profit that both created and worked with small high schools; we were working on a “tool kit,” a variety of skills/programs that can assist principals/schools. As I was sifting through papers I found my “credit recovery tool kit” file. Under state regulations each high school course requires 54 hours of seat time. If a student fails a course should the student have to repeat the entire course? What if the student “mastered” come topics and “failed to master” other topics? Is it possible to determine the topics passed and failed and develop a program to address the failed topics?
A few years later I was working with a small high school, a former college student of mine developed a credit recovery program that addressed the issue. His team would train teachers and produce templates for a variety of courses. The student would work with the teacher, using the template, to produce a 12-15 page term paper. The school would set aside blocks of time – four days during the Christmas, winter and spring breaks – 24 hours (6 hours x 4 days) – the student could earn three credits over a school year.
Unfortunately what began as a program to assist students to earn credits morphed into a “quicky” path to graduation. Writing a 12-15 page term paper became a few hours at a computer. As flawed credit recovery became endemic newly elected Regent Cashin asked an experienced high school principal to investigate. The principal compiled a report: schools routinely purchased software packages; I believe one was called Plato, a student sat at a computer, read passages and answered questions, sometimes using a textbook to seek answers, sometimes with the assistance of a teacher, and, after a few hours the student achieved mastery. Fifty-four hours of seat time was reduced to a few hours of punching keys on a computer.
As the Chancellor Merryl Tisch began to investigate the Department rushed to issue new regulations to address this problem to begin July 1, 2011.
Making Up Incomplete or Failed Course Credit.
Commencing July 1, 2011 and thereafter, a school district, Title may provide a student, who had the opportunity to complete a unit of study in a given high school subject but who failed to demonstrate mastery of the learning outcomes for such subject, with an opportunity to make up a unit of credit for such subject toward either a Regents or local diploma, pursuant to the following:
i. To receive credit, the student shall successfully complete a make-up credit program and demonstrate mastery of the learning outcomes for the subject, including passing the Regents examination in the subject or other assessment required for graduation, if applicable.
ii. The make-up credit program shall:
a. be aligned with the applicable New York State learning standards for such subject;
b. satisfactorily address the student’s course completion deficiencies and individual needs; and
c. ensure that the student receives equivalent, intensive instruction in the subject matter area provided, as applicable, under the direction and/or supervision of:
… a school district teacher who is certified in the subject matter area;
In the case of a school district or registered nonpublic school, the student’s participation in the make-up credit program shall be approved by a school-based panel consisting of, at a minimum, the principal, a teacher in the subject area for which the student must make up credit, and a guidance director or other administrator.
Are the software packages that schools purchase “aligned with the applicable New York State learning standards?” Does the make-up credit program “satisfactorily address the student course completion deficiencies and individual needs”? Do the students receive “equivalent, intensive instruction” under the direction of a “teacher certified in the subject matter area?”
There are no safeguards in place to assure compliance with the regulations, they were routinely ignored.
Six months later the Office of the Auditor-General issued a report. HIGH SCHOOL ACADEMIC DATA AUDIT REPORT. February, 2012 with recommendations:
Credit recovery: In addition to following the NY State regulation on make-up credit, guidance staff will identify students who may be eligible for credit recovery based on their course grades as an initial step. A subject-certified teacher will assign students to an approved credit recovery course that covers content materials they had not mastered. The subject committee will meet regularly to assess students’ progress and will be responsible for signing-off on the final test taken in the subject area. The school administrator will review the committee’s decision and have final authority to assign credit.
There was no follow-up, the audit was filed away and gathered dust.
Thanks to the relentless work of the reporting staff at the NY Post we know that the Department routinely ignored state regulations and the Report of the Auditor General. What is so sad is there is no conspiracy, schools openly flouted the regulations, superintendents ignored the regulations, in fact, may have encouraged “whatever is necessary” to pump up graduation rates. Networks facilitated the creation of credit recovery efforts; the goal was higher graduation rates “by any means possible.”
The Bloomberg administration was closing the doors at the end of 2013 and higher graduation rates were part of the legacy.
The Farina administration made no effort to remedy the egregious failures of the Bloomberg administration. As the pressure on the principal at John Dewey High School increased the Chancellor defended the principal at Dewey, until she was fired in July.
Farina and her deputy, Phil Weinberg, an experienced high school principal should have immediately intervened. Weinberg has been a high school principal for more than a decade he is not a naïf.
To address the growing scandal the Chancellor has created a mechanism to “monitor concerning trends,”
“By creating a Regulatory Task Force on Academic Policy and forming dedicated teams to monitor any concerning trends, we are once again sending a clear message that violating academic policies will not be tolerated,” Fariña said in a statement.
The editorial and op ed side of the NY Post flail away calling for the firing of the Chancellor and the creation of more charter schools, soiling the excellent work of the reportorial staff. The editorial writers praise Bloomberg, sadly ignoring the reality, the credit recovery scandal, and it is a scandal, was created and sanctioned by the Bloomberg administration.
A high school diploma is a crucial achievement, without the diploma the job market is sharply reduced, the difference between a career of bagging groceries versus a job with benefits and a pension. Creating a variety of pathways to high school graduation should not include “short cuts” that are fraudulent. The credit recovery chimera is not in place to assist students, it is in place to pump up graduation rates, and its purpose is to burnish the reputation of the adults, not to assist students.
The Regents must explore whether the single Regents diploma should be the sole pathway to graduation. Should the Regents create additional pathways? Are the new Common Core Regents exams aligned with state curricula? Why are students struggling with grades 3-8 Common Core exams? Are the exams flawed? Are the Common Core standards flawed?
I fear the “Regulatory Task Force” is simply a face saver, simply a presser to relieve the pressure. I fear the new administrative superintendent-driven system will not be able to create learning communities at the school and district level.
We know the students, the schools, the communities that are over-burdened with poverty risk load factors – how are the de Blasio and Farina administrations addressing generational poverty and the impact on schools?
Bloomberg closed over 150 schools and created 500 plus smaller schools, graduation rates have risen, we are suspicious about the data, the many small schools are far more personalized and can address the needs of individual students. A teacher in a Renewal Schools told me, “My students enter pre-k at least a year behind, attendance is poor, no matter how much we try too many of our children fall further and further behind.”
How are we addressing the concerns of that pre-k teacher?