Marc Korashan

This is an important starting point for a discussion of the broader question, what does a high school diploma mean? What do we expect high school students to be able to do after they graduate; use algebra to solve problems, write a research paper on a topic of their choosing; read and analyze texts from a variety of literary forms; speak or read a foreign language; be able to participate knowledgeably in the political process, or some other skills related to the expectations of a twenty-first century workplace heavily dependent of computer skills.

The basic curriculum has not changed over the many years since I graduated from high school in 1968. The specific content, the range of historical events, the required readings in English, and the depth of scientific knowledge have changed, of course, but the overall shape of the curriculum hasn’t.

Do we spend time teaching students facts (that they are not terribly interested in) and how to answer multiple choice questions, or do we teach them to challenge their thinking, to research in depth to understand what history teaches us about the present and how to use mathematics to solve meaningful problems in their daily lives (not two trains colliding but the kind of math we encounter in the real world al “Freakonomics”?

I am a product (as is Ed) of a Regents oriented high school curriculum. In fact, I was told that anything less than a ninety on the Geometry regents would result in my failing the course regardless of the grades earned on tests and homework assignments during it. I didn’t do poorly enough to test that proposition, but it was close. The issue is not the exam but what the exam requires of the students and whether they are held to strict and meaningful standards.

The essay question that Ed includes is a meaningful one that gives students a chance to demonstrate their knowledge of American History, government, and their organizational and writing skills. It requires many skill sets to be answered well within a constrained time period. Students who struggle with anyone of those skills will struggle with the question even if they know the material and could respond well to it given more time, access to a computer or to materials to help refresh their memory. Do we really have to know all the facts about the context of the adoption of a particular amendment to pass, or is knowing how to research and construct a meaningful and accurate response to the problem a more appropriate measure of the kind of skills that will be needed in college or career?

We need more discussion along these lines and a need to take a deeper look at the Consortium Schools and whether graduation by portfolio and performance is a more meaningful measure of accomplishment and, if so, what it will require of us in reorganizing high schools.

Comments encouraged



  1. Eric Nadelstern

    The single most devastating condemnation of American education is that our high schools haven’t changed since 1968 (or 1896 more likely). However, schools such as those in the Consortium have developed time-tested structures and instructional approaches for the past 35 years. It’s long overdue that we’ve finally decided to pay attention to our successes with an eye toward how these break the mold schools can infirm systemic secondary education reform.


  2. Pingback: Graduation Requirements: Should We Move the Bar Upwards? | Ed In The Apple

  3. Pingback: Should New York State Change Graduations Measures?  (Meaning: the courses and student assessments) – Ed in the Apple: Blogging on the Intersection of Education and Politics Title

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