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Raising graduation bar good for real-world goals

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To grade-schoolers, high school graduation and life beyond may look far beyond reach, but with effort and planning, they do eventually get there.

Similarly, raising the bar for earning a diploma seems like a heavy lift at a time when students are struggling to meet even the modest demands of No Child Left Behind. Still, anything worth having is worth fighting for, and the "college and career ready" diploma the Department of Education proposes is worth having.

Ironically, it’s the Board of Education, or at least some of its members, that may be shrinking from the fight. The board’s Committee on Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support narrowly voted last week to advance the proposal for a diploma that differs from the current certification in several ways. Come 2018, students would have to pass tougher courses in math, science and language arts, and complete a senior project in order to graduate, opting out only with a parent’s permission.

The three votes against it came from board Chairman Garrett Toguchi and members Lei Ahu Isa and Kim Coco Iwamoto. Their concern: DOE staff did not provide enough of a blueprint for how they will meet the goals and pay for the improvements.

The DOE should provide more particulars about costs so that lawmakers will be sure to allot the needed budgetary support for the plan. But Ahu Isa described the goals as "lofty," something achievable "in a perfect world." That is a disappointingly defeatist outlook, given that the educators themselves instead have expressed determination and support of the plan.

The schools administration does need to ramp up quickly, with students who will face the new standards already enrolled in the primary grades. Officials must sharpen the focus of recruitment to ensure that there are enough staffers for relevant subject areas.

But it’s also true that demands on the current workforce are already beyond the abilities of many graduates. It’s not a problem in Hawaii alone, of course. In 2005, a nonprofit educational reform coalition called Achieve Inc. launched the American Diploma Project Network, which now includes Hawaii and 34 other states ramping up to meet higher graduation standards to be ready for college and careers.

Even if not all students are bound for a baccalaureate degree, higher standards are needed even for the blue-collar jobs that are anticipated in the future, technology-driven economy. Competence in language and technical skills is already on the checklists employers use.

If the duty of public education is to prepare children for entering a world in which they can earn a livable wage, the policymaking school board should impose more rigorous standards. This is the mandate not of a perfect world, but the world in which we live.

 

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