95 Different Kinds of Diplomas

Just yesterday I wrote a post about low-skilled Americans–those who struggle in the areas of literacy, numeracy, and technological problem solving.

Low-Skilled Americans Are High School Graduates

According to a report issued early last year by the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education of the U.S. Department of Education, 60% of low-skilled Americans are high school graduates.

What kind of diploma did they receive?

According to a new report released by the nonprofit Achieve, 95 different kinds of diplomas were awarded to graduating high school seniors in 2015. Some represent rigorous college preparatory coursework; others do not.

Only eight states–Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Minnesota, Nebraska, and West Virginia–have set a high bar for its high school graduates, according to the Education Week article, “With 95 Kinds of High School Diplomas, What Does ‘Graduation’ Mean?” It’s a question that we as a country need to ask–and answer.

The Schott Foundation for Public Education has also brought attention to the problem of conferring “special” diplomas on students. Its 2015 report, Black Lives Matter: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males, says that states offer a wide variety of diplomas.

“For example, for many years NCES accepted New York State “Local Diplomas’ as fully equivalent to the state’s own Regents Diplomas and the diplomas of other states, even though “Local Diplomas’ were not accepted by the state’s own colleges and universities. “Local Diplomas,’ which were recently abolished, were disproportionately awarded to black, and especially black male, students, artificially inflating New York’s graduation rate for that group.”

Diplomas Must Represent Opportunity

The report continues. “Despite … the wide variety of diploma types, all are reported to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and counted as diplomas for graduation rate calculation purposes.”

Sandy Boyd, the chief operating officer at Achieve, says in a statement, “When states offer students anything other than a college- and career-ready diploma option, we owe it to students to ensure that whichever option they choose will leave them prepared to pursue the future of their choosing after high school.”

Many of us cheered the recent announcement that the U.S. high school graduation rate has hit a new high of 83.2%. That’s great news. It shows that many students have the self-discipline and motivation to stay in school and earn a credential.

But policymakers and educators as well as families and students themselves need to work to make sure that diplomas represent real opportunity and not a low-skilled future.