This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, July 3, 1991

July 3, 1991 - Goal Two: Graduation

Lately, I've been doing a lot of reading on, and thinking about, public education.

(And where am I getting some of the outrageous ideas you'll find below? GIMME AN "L"! GIMME AN "I"! GIMME A "B"! The rest of this blatantly self-serving cheer I leave as an exercise for the student.)

Last week I prodded at the philosophy underlying Goal One of the "Colorado 2000" initiative -- Governor Romer's attempt to improve our public education system. There are Six Goals altogether.

This week I'm going to see what I can do to Goal Two: "By the year 2000, the high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent for all groups."

In 1987, Colorado had a 76 percent graduation rate. Of course, this varied from district to district, and tended to be much lower for minority students.

Drop-outs who go on to pass the GED (General Educational Development) test, which then qualifies them for a High School Equivalency Certificate, don't get counted as graduates. Too, they have to wait until they're 17 to take the test.

I have two primary responses to Goal Two.

First, both the public library and the school library can and do have a lot to do with assisting students toward the aim of graduation. Most obviously, we provide an essential resource for people gathering information for school papers and research projects. But we also provide a pool of recreational reading materials -- books and magazines that help kids change gears and enjoy exercising their skills in a more personal, less structured, less goal-oriented way.

My second response concerns the whopping big assumption buried in Goal Two, and it's about time somebody dragged it out in the open. Is it worth a young person's time and effort to stay in school?

My wife just told me about a story she heard on National Public Radio last week. Back east, there's a young man, not yet old enough to drive, who started a lawn care business. In a couple of years, he parlayed a two-bit neighborhood job into a fairly respectable concern. These days, he owns vehicles he is not licensed to drive. He employs people older than he is.

But, darn it, his grades are slipping. He admits that his business activities are more interesting to him than his high school assignments.

I'd be willing to lay odds that if there's anything this guy needs to learn, he won't need school to teach him. And I'd be willing to bet that he's not the only young person in our school system that this observation applies to.

Should we make him (and others like him) stay in school till he's 18 years old anyhow? That's the thrust of several legislative proposals making their way around the country lately -- mandated school attendance from the ages of 4 to 18. But is this either necessary or wise?

On the other hand, surely we all want to ensure that people in our public education system -- most of whom are not nationally-known entrepreneurs -- do soak up some kind of core curriculum before they leave.

So here's a truly radical alternative: suppose that we tell all our children on their first day of school that the instant they can pass the GED, they get a high school degree. They decide when they want to take the test.

I realize this swims against the current, but suppose that we were to tell our children that school has just two main jobs: to provide training in basic academic skills (reading, writing, math), and to present in an organized way a core body of knowledge that we as a nation believe our young people should master in order to get going as citizens. We would tell them we've got a pretty good idea what that body of knowledge consists of, and that they'll be fairly assessed on the test.

And if they pass, it counts. They're out. They're free -- to go to work, to go to college, whatever they want.

Now THERE'S an incentive to graduate!

Remember when I mentioned that drop-out rates vary from district to district? So does the curriculum, both as to the content and the quality of the instruction. Why ask everybody to spend the same amount of time in every school when the amount of useful or interesting or necessary work to be done varies from place to place?

If we were to take this alternative seriously -- consider the GED as high school graduation, and open it up to students of any age -- I bet we'd get up to that 90 percent graduation figure in about three years. And we'd know that our graduates had learned something besides.

On the other hand, we might have a whole new problem: what to do with all those 12 year olds who pass the test?

Right now, a high school diploma is no more a guarantee of an education than an afternoon spent in a doctor's waiting room is a guarantee of health.

Of course, all this leads to another issue -- testing. That's next week's topic, and the focus of the next two goals of Colorado 2000.

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