Clearly, the premise must be flawed, as stated. To usefully guide public policy, the underlying philosophy of public education needs to be re-stated, as something closer to: “Every child deserves the opportunity to attend school and earn a high school diploma.”
(The pernicious and collectivist notion that anyone other than their parents should be obliged to PAY for it, on threat of forfeiture, we will leave for another day.)
But what does it mean if high school seniors are given an “exit exam” before being allowed to graduate, asking them -- say -- English questions at a 10th grade level, and math questions at an eighth grade level ... and 10 percent fail?
That the grading was too strict? That those kids had a bad day?
Let’s stipulate that the kids need only get slightly more than half the answers correct, that they’re warned in advance when the test will be given and allowed to study for it, that they can take it multiple times over a period of more than two years.
If 10 percent of them still fail -- as was the result when such a test was instituted this year in California, after a two-year delay because of low passing rates -- it can only mean one thing: Kids who haven’t really learned the (minimal) material needed to merit a modern high school diploma have been passed along through a process of “social promotion.” Their parents have been duped into thinking they’re “doing fine.” Those operating the public schools have been caught in a massive fraud.
(We won’t discuss today how much even those expectations have been watered down since the 1930s, when high school graduates were expected to know some Latin, a foreign language, some chemistry and geometry, and a whole lot more American, European, and Constitutional history.)
Needless to say, the hand-wringers of the education bureaucracy aren’t about to admit they’ve been cheating. Instead, lawsuits were promptly filed, contending the California Legislature was cruel and heartless “to the children” when it required the exit exam in order to expose such suspected fraud. (Defrauding “the children” of a real education, handing them instead an increasingly worthless diploma after allowing them to cut pictures out of magazines for 12 years, isn’t “cruel and heartless,” of course, providing it’s all done with the best of intentions, under the guidance of people with Ph.Ds in “Education.”)
The test was unfair to poor students, who attend mostly sub-standard schools, the plaintiffs moaned. It’s unfair to those who don’t speak good English, because -- well, because the test is in English. Or something.
(Of the 46,700 California seniors who have still not passed the test after multiple tries, 28,300 are considered “poor,” and 20,600 are designated as having “limited English skills.” Which, of course, is something the test is supposed to catch. This is like saying a driving test you can fail by running into walls is unfair ... to people who are unable to steer well enough to avoid driving into walls. Well, duh.)
So, are the plaintiffs proposing that those supposedly sub-standard schools attended by poor kids be closed down, all their staffs fired for good, and all the tax money used to operate them refunded to the taxpayers who were duped into paying?
If 20,000 California high school seniors can’t speak enough English to pass this simple test, how did they manage to get passing grades -- including in their required “English” classes -- and win promotion to the 9th grade, to the 10th, and to the 11th?
Two weeks ago, a lower court judge sided with the plaintiffs and threw out the California high school exit exam, ruling, in effect, that kids who can’t speak English or solve “5 times X equals 30” should still be given their diplomas.
But last week, proving that even in California there’s still some limit to the Alice-in-Wonderland silliness, the state Supreme Court reinstated the exit exam -- though instead of hearing the case at length, the justices booted the matter up to the U.S. Court of Appeals, requesting a quick ruling.
This is good news (so far) for the 19 other states -- sheltering about half the nation’s students -- with similar exit exams. Desperate educrats, even here in Nevada, had been watching the California case, muttering about filing their own lawsuits on similar grounds.
“This is a very clear victory for public education,” said California state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. “The students who have worked very hard to pass this exam will be given a diploma that signifies their mastery of essential skills in reading and math.”
Mr. O’Connell either fails to say or doesn’t want to know the age at which students in Japan and Europe are expected to master the material which he says his superannuated charges are “working very hard” to master. But at heart, he’s got it right.
“The exit exam ensures that our schools are living up to their responsiblity by giving our students the skills and the knowledge they need to succeed in college and in the workplace,” adds Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an English-language learner who’s living proof that one of those necessary skills is ... reading and writing English.