21.10.05

INCENTIVES MATTER. Joanne Jacobs locates an Idaho proposal that matriculants in high school earn a C average in middle school first.

The State Board wants middle school students to earn a cumulative C average in math, science, social studies and language and pass pre-algebra as their ticket into high school beginning with next year's sixth-graders.

Those who don't meet the standards would be held back.

This is promising. What follows is more promising.
Better middle school preparation will help kids handle more rigorous high school classes that would require two more years of math and an additional year of science as part of a college preparatory curriculum all students would be expected to complete, the State Board says.
But let's think this through.
Earning a middle school C average is one of several parts to the State Board's plan to toughen high school with an eye toward encouraging more kids to go to college after graduation.
Relatively few Idaho youngsters start college, but with proper middle- and high-school preparation, will some of them require the remediation that too often passes for college? I can see the denizens of the retention ponds fretting over this prospect. Education Gadfly correctly notes that such a proposal will encourage grade-grubbing at lower levels.
If the Gem State's middle schools are like those in the rest of the country, they suffer from low academic expectations and an emphasis on social development rather than learning. Giving middle school teachers an incentive to inflate their students' scores could make that illness even more acute.
Whatever the problem, there is a tremendous social waste in the elementary schools punting their failures to the middle schools punting their failures to the high schools punting their failures to the colleges in such a way that more than a few potential high achievers finally live up to their potential ... upon completing a Master's degree. That path requires people to defer entering their peak earning years as well as to come up with more resources working their way through ... stuff their common schools might have equipped them with?

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