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Bad bill seeks to remove hurdle to "dummy diploma"

Regardless that they talk out of both sides of their mouths, money is being put where it is the case of one of the “dummy diploma” concept backers – an effort that policy-makers must have the wisdom to reject.

State Sen. Ben Nevers was among the more vocal backers of a law passed last year to create the “career diploma,” which would significantly relax the kinds of requirements, in terms of advanced nature of coursework, to earn a high school diploma. They argued that for those planning on going into more vocational and technical fields this would be a better course – never mind that it would largely abrogate its holder from qualifying to enter a Louisiana university in the future, that occupations of all kinds continue to demand more and more critical thinking abilities and larger knowledge bases while the concept of this program of study retreats from these realities, students might change their minds but become trapped in a curriculum, etc.

All along, supporters asserted that it meant standards would not lowered even as suspicion grew that the main reason for doing this was so graduation statistics would increase and thereby make policy-makers look like they were doing their jobs better. Then, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education called their bluff by declaring that end-of-course tests would be the same for students for any kind of diploma.

Then the double-talking among the supporters truly manifested, and Nevers has led the charge with his SB 490. The bill would make BESE design “construction of end-of-course examination questions [to] reflect course content and method of instruction” for the career diploma. Translation: rather than test over classics in literature they would be over how to read directions, and rather than ask students to write critical essays they would ask them how they “feel” about the material, if that’s how the instruction is to be.

The majority on BESE’s idea of how the diplomas should differ is that the goal of attaining basic knowledge and critical thinking ability should be pursued in both and tested in the basic core courses, but that the traditional one elaborates and goes further in the core while with the career one those kinds of classes are jettisoned in favor of more vocational kinds. This would argue for using the same tests. But Nevers and his ilk seem to think, even as they protested otherwise, that the goals must differ because then no reason would exist for this legislation. They must envision core classes being taught at different skill levels, and it wouldn’t appear the difference would come from the career track classes being the more demanding.

A career diploma option need not devolve into a “dummy diploma,” but this bill surely sets up the process to push it that way. As such, the Legislature must reject it, and as a last resort Gov. Bobby Jindal would have to veto it. He actually supported the bill creating the option, but if he wants to maintain educational standards that slowly are dragging Louisiana into the 21st century, he can’t allow the current bill to water that down.

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