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Thompson: In Praise of Seat Time

Dropout_nation_blog_main_horizontalThe Washington Post's Jay Mathews and Title I-Derland's Nancy Connor have both published new critiques of "credit recovery" programs.  Mathews notes that the "D.C. schools have long been accused of looking for excuses to give diplomas to students who have not mastered the material," and he speculates about the "many lackluster students [who are] suddenly and mysteriously cleared for graduation just before the big day."  Similarly, Connor, "find(s) it very hard to believe that most students already considered over-age and under-credited (the very students to whom these alternatives are targeted) will really learn as much as traditional students by sitting down at the computer and cranking out class requirements in a matter of weeks." The problem is not necessarily credit recovery, but the incentives for its abuse in an age of "accountability." In a story on dropout prevention, PBS News Hour's John Turlenko reported on a successful credit recovery program, and linked to Y-2ress' Keshia Smith and Jeanette Green, who were both age 18 when they described what it takes for credit recovery to work.

Smith and Green's "More than Academics" described a program that was run by a dynamic mentor, Melissa Lakes. She gets to know each of her students, "what they love, what they hate and what they’re doing daily in their lives."  Her small program, the Student Achievement Center, sometimes is the only place where her students feel safe.

The Student Achievement Program is small and selective, and demands the highest standards of behavior. It has three requirements. The students put in three hours a day using computer programs to compete traditional course; the students engage in paid employment, as well as build resumes and practice interview skills; and they engage in service learning. 

Given the real and potential abuses rampant in credit recovery, it would be prudent for systems to emulate another feature; The Student Achievement Program is located off the high school campus. Given the tendency to use online tutorials to just "pass kids on," it is not a good idea to allow schools under the accountability gun to run dropout prevention programs.-JT (@drjohnthompson) image via

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One thing that always bothered me, and perhaps I’m unfairly biased because I was an honors student, was how school officials seemed content to push kids failing their courses through school, regardless of accomplishment. It gives these individuals a sense that they don’t have to try to succeed. It wastes taxpayer money. Nobody benefits aside from the pass rate of the school itself. It’s ridiculous.

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