MEDIA WATCH: Disgraceful editorial in The New York Times on the last day of 2015...

One has to ask if the front page phony "diploma crisis" story in The New York Times at the end of December 2015 was just a set up for a truly disgraceful New York Times editorial, "The Counterfeit High School Diploma," running on Dec. 31. What a way to end the year! The URL for the editorial is here (and the full editorial is below)...">

The front page New York Times story bashing high school diplomas in the USA will long serve as an example in journalism classes of dishonest reporting. "As graduation rates rise, a fear diplomas fall short..." was far short of the claims above in ("All the news that's fit to print...") as far as honest news reporting could be concerned. Instead of utilizing critical sources challenging the claims that ACT scores measure "college and career readiness" and the usual babble from outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Times utilizes one-sided sources, including "Achieve," which has been in the forefront of promoting corporate "school reform" for nearly 20 years. The Times often identifies analysis and opinion by placing it "ragged right" in columns, but the Motoko Rich "news" story from December 27, while laughingly biased, is presented to the Times's millions of on line and print readers as objective "news" and not as editorializing in the form of a news story. What a way to end the year! The editorial is bizarre as well as ugly. The "Times Picks" of online comments say it's a good editorial. Nothing like the chance to bash teachers to provoke a few hundred people to make an online comment.


The Counterfeit High School diploma (New York Times Editorial December 31, 2015)�

Teachers unions and other critics of federally required standardized tests have behaved in recent years as though killing the testing mandate would magically remedy everything that ails education in the United States. In reality, getting rid of the testing requirement in the early grades would make it impossible for the country to know what if anything children were learning from year to year.

Congress understood this fundamental point, and kept the testing requirement, when it reauthorized the No Child Left Behind Act � now called the Every Student Succeeds Act � last month. But lawmakers ducked the most important problem: the fact that most states still have weak curriculums and graduation requirements that make high school diplomas useless and that leave graduates unprepared for college, the job market or even meeting entry requirements for the Army.

The costs associated with this problem are demonstrated in a recent report by Motoko Rich in The Times, which focused on Berea High School in Greenville, S.C., where the graduation rate has risen to 80 percent, from under 65 percent just four years ago. But college entrance exams given to 11th graders last year showed that only one in 10 students was ready for college-level reading and only about one in 14 was prepared for entry-level college math. On a separate job skills test, only about half of students demonstrated the math proficiency needed to succeed at most jobs.

With results like that, it�s no wonder some South Carolina business leaders are worried that the state is producing high school graduates who are not qualified to compete for higher-skilled jobs at companies like Boeing, Volvo and BMW.

This is a national problem. A recent study from Achieve, a nonpartisan organization that works with the states to raise academic standards, showed that only 18 states and the District of Columbia required all graduates in the class of 2014 to meet the minimum preparation requirements for college � four years of English and math through Algebra II, or its equivalent.

Nationally, graduation rates are rising � yet less than 40 percent of 12th graders are ready for math and reading at the college level. An alarming study by the Education Trust, a nonpartisan foundation, found that more than one in five recent high school graduates could not meet minimum entry test standards to enlist in the Army. Despite this problem, the states have continued to drag their feet on improving the quality of the teaching corps and especially on putting in place stronger curriculums.

Continue reading the main story

The Common Core learning standards, pioneered by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, were supposed to remedy this by setting ambitious goals for math, reading and writing skills. But after an initial burst of support by school officials across the country, the standards came under fire from some in teachers unions who did not want to be evaluated based on how much students learned and from states� rights advocates who viewed the idea as a prelude to a �government takeover.�

Many states reacted by settling for cosmetic changes in school curriculums and using weak tests that virtually anyone could pass. This allows them to hide how dismal their schools actually are and misleads families and students into believing that high school diplomas have value.

The country has yet to confront this problem and commit itself to the steps it would take to correct it. Until it does, the United States will continue to lose ground to nations that have better prepared teachers and rigorous school systems that do better jobs of giving their citizens the skills they need.


[Editor's Note: The following article was originally published at Susan Ohanian's website in response to the nonsense that appeared on the front page of The New York Times reporting on the rise in high school graduation rates. Basically, after years of bemoaning the "fact" that high school graduation rates were "low," the Times now frets that the improvements in graduation rates is suspicious. Please read Susan's comments and mediate, this New Year, on how the ruling class, as typified by the reporters and editors at the Times, will always be condemning the nation's real public schools, even when we do what the Times's elitist staff and owners demand that we should have been doing... George N. Schmidt, Editor].

Awarding Diplomas: Damned if You Don't; Damned Louder if You Do by Susan Ohanian

Here's a front page. above--the-fold New York Times non-story that's a perfect depiction of damning schools every-which-way. Schools with low graduation rates are depicted as failures; improve graduation rates, and then the diplomas they're handing out are judged to have no meaning. And the Times gives the departing Secretary of Education star billing on this issue. Quotation of the Day "The goal is not just high school graduation. The goal is being truly college and career ready." --ARNE DUNCAN, the departing secretary of education, on the United States 82 percent graduation rate in 2013-14, the highest on record.--New York Times, Dec. 27, 2015

Yes, send Arne out pretending that a throw-away line given in a phone interview is not pro forma hot air but something significant.

The quotation links to this story: As Graduation Rates Rise, Experts Fear Diplomas Come Up Short, by Motoko Rich. As you read, take note of the "experts" referred to in the story.

THE FULL STORY. Appeared on the front page of the national print edition of The New York Times on December 27, 2015...

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- A sign in a classroom here at Berea High School, northwest of downtown in the largest urban district in the state, sends this powerful message: "Failure Is Not an Option. You Will Pass. You Will Learn. You Will Succeed." By one measure, Berea, with more than 1,000 pupils, is helping more students succeed than ever: The graduation rate, below 65 percent just four years ago, has jumped to more than 80 percent. But that does not necessarily mean that all of Berea's graduates, many of whom come from poor families, are ready for college -- or even for the working world.

According to college entrance exams administered to every 11th grader in the state last spring, only one in 10 Berea students were ready for college-level work in reading, and about one in 14 were ready for entry-level college math. And on a separate test of skills needed to succeed in most jobs, little more than half of the students demonstrated that they could handle the math they would need. It is a pattern repeated in other school districts across the state and country-- urban, suburban and rural -- where the number of students earning high school diplomas has risen to historic peaks, yet measures of academic readiness for college or jobs are much lower. This has led educators to question the real value of a high school diploma and whether graduation requirements are too easy.

"Does that diploma guarantee them a hope for a life where they can support a family?" asked Melanie D. Barton, the executive director of the Education Oversight Committee in South Carolina, a legislative agency. Particularly in districts where student achievement is." Few question that in today's economy, finishing high school is vital, given that the availability of jobs for those without a diploma has dwindled.

The Obama administration has hailed the rising graduation rate, saying schools are expanding opportunities for students to succeed. Earlier this month, the Department of Education announced that the national graduation rate hit 82 percent in 2013-14, the highest on record.

But "the goal is not just high school graduation," Arne Duncan, the departing secretary of education, said in a telephone interview. "The goal is being truly college and career ready."

The most recent evaluation of 12th graders on a national test of reading and math found that fewer than 40 percent were ready for college level work. College remediation and dropout rates remain stubbornly high, particularly at two-year institutions, where fewer than a third who enroll complete a degree even within three years.

In South Carolina, even with a statewide high school graduation rate of 80.3 percent, some business leaders worry that not enough students have the abilities they need for higher-skilled jobs at Boeing, Volvo and BMW, which have built plants here in recent years.

What is more, they say, students need to be able to collaborate and communicate effectively, skills they say high schools do not always teach.

"If you look at what a graduation diploma guarantees today," said Pamela P. Lackey, the president of AT&T South Carolina, "the issue is we have a system of education that prepares them for a different type of work than we have as a reality today."

Still, there is no single reason these rates have increased. Economists point to a decline in the teenage pregnancy rate, as well as a reduction in violent crime among teenagers. Some districts use data systems to identify students with multiple absences or failed classes so educators can better help them. And an increasing number of states and districts offer students more chances to make up failed credits online or in short tutoring sessions without repeating a whole semester or more. States also vary widely in diploma requirements.

In California, South Carolina and Tennessee, the authorities have recently eliminated requirements that students pass exit exams to qualify for a diploma. Alaska, California, Wisconsin and Wyoming demand far fewer credits to graduate than most states, according to the Education Commission of the States, although local school districts may require more.

According to one analysis of requirements for the class of 2014, 32 states did not require that all graduates take four years of English and math through Algebra II or its equivalent, which is often defined as the minimum to be prepared for college. "Students and their families rely on and trust the high school diploma as a signal of readiness," said Alissa Peltzman, the vice president of state policy at Achieve, a nonprofit that performed the study.

"It needs to mean something. Otherwise, it's a false promise for thousands of students." Over the past decade in California, several large urban districts adopted coursework guidelines aligned to entrance requirements at the state's public universities. Los Angeles initially required that students earn at least a C in those classes, but the number of students on track to graduate plummeted. Now grades of D or higher are accepted.

"It's a push and pull between rigorous standards that are harder to meet," said Russell W. Rumberger, a professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, "and less rigorous standards that are easier to meet but don't necessarily ensure that you know that much."

In South Carolina, students must take four years of English and math and three years of social studies and science. Last year, the legislature voted to eliminate the exit exam. Parents of students with disabilities argued that the test made it difficult for their children to graduate, while business leaders said it did not indicate that students were ready for work. "Quite honestly, it had become very easy, and it didn't mean a lot," said Molly Spearman, the state superintendent of education. Last year, the legislature required all 11th graders to take a test assessing college and career readiness, as well as an exam that measured academic skills needed for most jobs.

The first results, from the ACT college admissions tests, showed that only about a quarter of students statewide were ready for either college-level math or reading. Just 6 percent of black students and 15 percent of Hispanic students scored ready for college in math, with only slightly higher rates for reading.

In one poor rural district where most of the students are African-American, graduation rates have risen to more than 85 percent, yet not one student scored high enough on the ACT to be deemed ready for college in reading or math. Even on simpler tests of the cognitive skills needed for many jobs, fewer than two-thirds of South Carolina 11th graders could show sufficient skills in both math and reading. Here at Berea High School, a rare, racially integrated campus with similar numbers of African-American, Hispanic and white students, administrators are proud of the rising graduation rate. Addressing the low scores on the ACT, administrators said many 11th graders had not yet learned the material covered when they took the test. And some educators say such tests do not accurately predict whether students will do well in college or in the workplace anyway. Imari Nicholson, a 17-year-old student at Berea, has expressed interest in sports therapy or dentistry. After he failed chemistry his junior year, his counselor reminded him that he would need the course to qualify for a college program in his chosen fields. He is retaking it this semester. This time, he is getting an A. But he said he was not satisfied with his scores on the ACT, which indicated that he was not yet ready for college. "I expect better of myself," he said. A picture caption provides this information: "Photo. A calculus assignment at Berea. According to college entrance exams administered to every 11th grader in South Carolina last spring, only one in 14 of Berea's students were ready for college-level work in math."

I have family experiences with those high school calculus courses. Relatives did well in high school AP courses and also on the AP exam. Then, as college freshmen, with calculus waived, they hit the college math that comes next. They decided they didn't really understand calculus and took it again in college. I'm happy to report that both did well and are employed in scientific fields that required an exacting course of study.

This is anecdotal but research suggesting that calculus requires a certain sophistication that many high schoolers, no matter how smart and diligent they are, are not quite ready to tackle. And they're much better off waiting a year or two. Or, as a number of discussants on Physics Forum argue, go ahead and give it in high school but don't offer college credit.

I have my own experience of working my way through a calculus book, doing the problems correctly, and not having a clue of what it was about.

But the issue here isn't calculus. The issue is the notion that high school should produce students who are "college and career ready." It stems from a corporate community that doesn't want to offer worker training.

How many people are ever "career ready" for anything? One learns on the job. Stop asking high schools for guarantees.

I sent this letter to the New York Times. Re:"As Graduation Rates Rise, Experts Fear Diplomas Come Up Short," Motoko Rich, December 2015. I read all this blather about what kind of career readiness a high school diploma must provide and wonder who's fooling whom. For starters, researchers have long pointed out that NAEP proficiency levels are way out of whack. NAEP warnings have been issued by the U. S. Government Accounting Office, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education, and a host of individual researchers. Let's not ignore the important information a high school diploma offers: Evidence that some 30 teachers or more attest that a student passed through four years of school with acceptable standing is no small accomplishment. What happens next is up to the students and the world they live in. We need to stop blaming schools and look closely at the shortcomings of that world. Decades ago I carried a Masters Degree in medieval literature in my job-hunting resume--and landed a minimum-wage job at a New York City advertising agency only because I could type 85 words a minute. I've never considered that my lack of career readiness made the MA useless. I wish I'd included the information that "The world they live in" includes the fact that 79% of students at Berea High School participate in free and reduced lunch. I wonder if the reason NAEP isn't mentioned by name but is referred to as "the most recent evaluation of 12th graders on a national test of reading and math" because the reporter is aware of how questionable NAEP rankings are. It seems more than a little disingenuous to use NAEP results without crediting the source.

Here's an online comment that is better than my letter. I hope they print it:

Reader Comment: I disagree with the entire, elitist slant of this article. A high school diploma in our society is a minimum credential for most jobs. If you don't have a high school diploma, you're almost unemployable except in the most menial positions, and sometimes not even then. So when you talk about restricting high school diplomas because of alleged poor academic qualifications, you're really advocating an even more stratified social pyramid than we have now. I frankly don't trust current school testing, which is preponderantly just another money-making scam. High school is not easy even in gritty urban public schools. It has, in fact, become much harder in recent decades, with the virtual elimination of social promotions. You normally can't graduate from any American public school without acquiring at least a sufficient basic literacy needed for entry level positions in the workforce. And thats really what a high school diploma is meant to stand for today.

� Susan Ohanian, December 27, 2015


January 2, 2016 at 10:44 AM

By: Margaret Wilson

High School Diplomas

When I was In High School, most school were two tier. One was College Prep which required all of the classes needed to enter College and the other which just required the minimum for entry level jobs. I think there should be more schools that go back to this practice. Just as not everyone is ready to learn the same skills at the same time (such as reading), not everyone wants to go to college. Whatever happened to all of our vocational programs?

January 2, 2016 at 11:17 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Vocatonal high schools...

As Marge Wilson reminds us, not all high schools should be required to produce graduates who are "college ready" (I have no idea what "career ready" means, and if that defined by ACT scores of a certain minimum -- as Achieve and the New York Times are trying to do -- it's bullshit). For generations, Chicago had "vocational high schools" which trained students in general ed subjects but also provided intense "vocational" (i.e., shops) for students who wanted to learn that stuff. When I taught at Prosser, before the corporate "reform" madness took over in the 1990s, many many students remained in high school because they were learning, hands on, the beginnings of a trade at their high school. In those days (40 years ago) Prosser had shops that taught, among other things, sheet metal, machine shop, auto repairs, auto body and fender, printing, typesetting, and a dozen other things. A young person can still make a decent living -- even while still in high school -- if he or she can do rough carpentry, plumbing, or a dozen other things. Every Lake Shore area family complains, to this day, about the "high price" of a good plumber. But that's the price you pay for a skill that many "college ready" elitists demean. By the late 1980s, CPS was denigrating the shops, and since the onslaught of stupid corporate reform, shops have been undermined behind the brand called "career and technical education". It's not as if there were not a need for young workers who could lay a straight line of brick or install electrical wiring in a wall without burning down the building. It's just that since the Clinton administration, we've been stuck with a bunch of Ivy League elitists who denigrate trade training and elevate the most stupid "college ready" notions of importance above everything else. As you know, since 1988, the United States has had a series of Presidents who are Ivy League (Yale, Harvard) graduates. All of them share a certain level of robust ineptitude when it comes to basic motor skills (the ability to utilize hammers, skill saws, etc.) but who can talk the world to death with their constant nonsense about what constitutes "college and career ready" (ness) and then reduce the whole notion to an imbecilic single number, whether it's IQ, a standardized test score, of the latest ACT "bottom line" tyranny...

January 2, 2016 at 3:47 PM

By: Bob Busch

Voc -ed

How well I know that George is telling the truth,however it goes a lot deeper than that.

For 25 years I taught at a vocational school.

Students had the option of going into the business tract which was vigorous.Any student not cutting the mustard,and everyone else, went through the vocational tract.

Every semester for the first two years you took mini-shops,then come junior year you had to select a vocational major.Mini shops exposed you to everything from carpentry to welding.These were one period a day,major shops were three periods long,every day.None of that excused from the regular curriculum.All students had to take everything else.

The mini-shops were very important because every student learned the basic

way things functioned in this world. In auto shop for instance,you learned how to change a tire, change your oil,and windshield wiper blades.Many Simeon grads would tell a rip -off mechanic a hundred dollars for new blades was nuts, and do it themselves.Most people would be scared to change a burned out wall plug,but our kids did that in electric shop.

The three period major classes were another world.Some of the work they did in commercial art was unbelievable.The welding shop made, and installed, real iron fences long before the rest of the schools.Library table shaky, you would have five kids fix it that day,and fix it right.We sent so many athletes off on athletic scholarships we should have made sports a major.

January 4, 2016 at 7:03 PM

By: Susan Ohanian

Voc Ed

Steve Krashen recently reminded me of this great John Gardner observation:

"We must learn to honor excellence in every socially accepted human activity, however humble the activity, and to scorn shoddiness, however exalted the activity. An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water."

--John Gardner, "Excellence"

My only quarrel with it is having just lived through the changing of a faucet in the kitchen, I don't consider plumbing a 'humble' activity.

January 5, 2016 at 10:27 AM

By: Rod Estvan

Voc Ed problem is not simple

The world is not a simple place and assumptions made about salaries for the nature of physical labor are not always correct. Since people like to discuss plumbers so that is a good place to start, the current median pay for a plumber in the USA is $50,660 a year ( ) which means 49% make less than that working full time. They have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Plumbers are often on call for emergencies, so evening and weekend work is common. Here are blog postings just on back injuries for plumbers

It's easy for those of us with college degrees to write about the need for skilled trades workers and vocational education, it's another thing when you look at the toll these trades take on bodies and how shot one is from doing it by the age of fifty. More and more new immigrants to the USA are going into the trades, because it offers opportunities for higher incomes, but indigenous workers are avoiding the hard dirty jobs to the extent they can. Very few of us who come from working class families were advised by our parents to become plumbers unless it was to inherit a family business. We all saw how hard physical labor destroyed the health of our older family members and they warned that while the money was good you can't do this kind of work when you get older so get an education.

There is also no question we are pushing students into college and many young people are accumulating mass student debt in the process. But I know I would not have wanted any of my own girls going into the skilled trades. Women workers are at disproportionately high risk for musculoskeletal injuries on the job, suffering 63 percent of all work-related repetitive motion injuries. Hazards such as radiation, glycol ethers, lead, and strenuous physical labor can affect a woman's reproductive health, including pregnancy outcomes. Violence is also a special concern for women workers. Homicide is the leading cause of job-related death for women, and women also are at increased risk of non-fatal assault (see ).

Rod Estvan

January 5, 2016 at 6:34 PM

By: Bob Busch

Handy Andy

I am writing this from a heated room in the barn me, and my Lane tech carpenter shop buddy built over 40 years ago.Three months before that we built the home I still live in.

I came close to becoming a full time carpenter back then, and often wonder about the road not taken.I sure got very tired about my 35th year of teaching, but guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

January 6, 2016 at 7:36 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Trades work and old age...

The summer after I graduated from high school in Newark New Jersey in 1964, I worked happily as a "trucker's helper" for Gross and Hecht Trucking in Newark. Most of the time my job was to lug beef and unload other supplies from the trailers that headed out from Newark and Jersey City's warehouses to the A & P stores from Northern New Jersey all the way "down the shore" almost to Atlantic City. It was a great summer job for a strong 18 year old: nothing like riding shotgun on a tractor trailer going "down the shore" as the girls rode along U.S. 9 in their convertibles, waving and flirting somewhat graphically. I also liked lugging beef, up to "quarters" although most of what we did was "rounds" and smaller sizes.

At summer's end, I was poised to go to college on a scholarship, but I had shared with a few of the older drivers that maybe I would keep working for a time on the trucks, since union wages (we were in Tony Pro's Teamster local) were good, and why not continue getting the exercise.

A couple of days before I was scheduled to leave, a couple of the drivers pulled me aside in the garage and told me, in a Teamster kind of way, that they would kick my ass if I didn't go to college. Some of them knew my Dad from "the war" (they had all been "in the service" as men called their military experiences back then) and knew my Dad had wanted college but hadn't been able to do it after he and my Mom (who had married just before Pearl Harbor; Dad was already in the Army) began having the family they postponed throughout the war in case one of them (both wound up in the Army) didn't "make it back."

So my fellow Teamsters told me they'd kick my ass if I didn't go to college. They discussed what kind of future I'd have at age 40 or 50, when just one slip on the ice while lugging a 100 lb round of beef would "mess up" my back (assuming the jiggling on those ancient Brockways hadn't already done so...).

So I went off to college, lucky to have scholarships, including the one that got me to the University of Chicago until I was able to graduate in 1969. By then, I had had the time to learn the immorality and illegality of the Vietnam War (actually, the "Second Indochina War," since by then I had read Bernard Fall and the other French reporters who reminded us of the history we were programmed to ignore...).

Not only that, but some of my friends were already dead. My best friend, a KIA USMC outside Danang, 1967. Another high school friend, a POW (Marine Air, 1966 and following)...

A strong union gave some protections to the guys I had worked with at Gross and Hecht in those days. One of the reasons the men (and now, women) who work in the "trades" face hardships when they get older is not only that our bodies wear out, but that in an uncivilized society like the one we're living in, there is a war against the old, almost a Darwinian attack on the effrontery we have for living longer than the actuarial projections once upon a time.

Men and women who work hard jobs should be able to collect serious pensions by the time they are in their 50s and they begin wearing out. Most of us are worn out by the time we hit 60. Now that I'm on the edge of 70, I know I could no longer handle classroom teaching at the level I once did it in Chicago.

But it's not the dangerous or wearing nature of the jobs. Men and women should be able to lay floor file, pull toilets and replace them, hand doors as "rogh carpenters," and work along the baseboards putting in electrical wiring (all of which I once did when I worked construction) without having to worry about doing it when we wore out.

It's really not about the work, but about how workers are treated and rewarded. It's about the way this savage society, a generation after the publication of those Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand sermons (disguised as fiction or "science") began the revival of ruthless social Darwinism in the USA. We're always going to need plumbers, as well as coders. And even coders age out of their prime years. The social and economic policies of the ruling class, when we let our rulers get away with the current nonsense, is what the problem is.

It's not a bad idea for kids in their teens and twenties to be able to do all that heavy lifting. And the energy they burn off is better than having them crazed out in the next version of reality as in "The Hurt Locker."

January 8, 2016 at 4:30 AM

By: Bob Busch

'Underutilization' lies from CPS

I came across this list -- http://www.dnainfo.


It shows the enrollment of CPS schools. I have only included the schools where i have taught or subbed. Harper 253, Fenger 271, Gage Pk. 406, Bogan 856, Simeon 1363, Curie 3050...

Curie and Simeon are doing alright. Bogan is hanging on.But the rest show the results of what "Turnaround" has done to the schools. A lone teacher with five classes, and a study hall and division can service over 200 kids a day!

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