Monday Reading List: Graduation Shenanigans and #UnpopularDonald

Grace Tatter at Chalkbeat looks at Tennessee's high school graduation statistics and finds problems:

Tennessee has been praised nationally for its high graduation rate while also maintaining rigorous graduation requirements for high school. But it turns out, that’s not entirely true. A third of Tennessee students are receiving diplomas without meeting the state’s requirements, according to a new report by the State Department of Education ... Students most often skipped out on requirements for required government and foreign language classes. White and minority students missed credits at similar rates, according to Chief Research Officer Nate Schwartz. It’s not clear how long the problem has persisted.

That second part is critical, because it reveals that "high school graduation," while important, is an unreliable measurement. While states have tried to standardize the meaning of graduation, there are still significant variances both within, and across, states.

More rigorous standards for high school graduation can have lifelong positive effects on students. As Emily DeRuy found, writing in The Atlantic, requiring more math courses in high school had a significant impact on future earnings for students of color:

When states raise the number of math classes they require students to take in high school, black students complete more math coursework—and boost their earnings as a result. That’s the topline takeaway from new research by Joshua Goodman, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government ... The findings suggest several things, including that math coursework makes up a good portion of the gains a student makes through a year of schooling. Goodman isn’t suggesting that history and English don’t matter, but he is suggesting that math seems to matter a lot. And, crucially, that closing racial disparities in high-school math could help limit disparities in earnings later on.

We often discuss education reforms in the abstract, but that last point makes a direct connection between changes within the classroom and life outcomes. While earnings are not the only longitudinal factor that matters for students, it takes a whole boatload of privilege to ignore the economic benefits of a great education. In short, raising education standards can elevate standards of living.

The lack of a standardized definition of high school graduation is part of the reason that so many American students are unprepared for college. Sarah Butrymowicz of The Hechinger Report looked at college preparation nationally:

During the 2014 academic year, at least 569,751 students at 884 public two- and four-year colleges across 33 states were deemed not ready for some college-level work. The national total is likely significantly higher, however, due to inconsistencies in how the data was collected. In fact, there’s no way to know exactly how many students are placed in these courses, even though they are a financial drain on students and taxpayers and a huge stumbling block on the way to a degree ... Some states hadn’t collected data since 2012, and some states didn’t have any remediation data available to share. Even in the many states that do track this data consistently, different schools may use different cutoff scores on remedial course placement tests.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many colleges use the revenue from remedial courses as a cash cow, while doing little to advance the students taking those courses. College education is a sham if it doesn't lead to an affordable degree with meaning in the world.

In other news, the White House's #MuslimBan has triggered appropriate outrage, as Peter Baker reports in The New York Times:

More than any of the myriad moves Mr. Trump has made in his frenetic opening days in office, the immigration order has quickly come to define his emerging presidency as one driven by a desire for decisive action even at the expense of deliberate process or coalition building. It has thrust the nine-day-old administration into its first constitutional conflict, as multiple courts have intervened to block aspects of the order, and into its broadest diplomatic incident, with overseas allies objecting.

LOL at "first constitutional crisis."

Krishnadev Calamur of The Atlantic summarizes who is affected by the ban:

For 120 days, the order bars the entry of any refugee who is awaiting resettlement in the U.S. It also prohibits all Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. until further notice. Additionally, it bans the citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries—Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen—from entering the U.S. on any visa category.

The whole process seems like an administrative mess, on top of - you know - cutting against all of the principles that are supposed to make us "great" as a country. Most Americans agree. David Lauter of The Los Angeles Times looks at the president's approval ratings:

President Trump's actions during his first week in office have appeared to be aimed at the voters who already supported him, not at reaching out to the rest, and that's taken a rapid toll on his support, which was already historically low. Gallup, which has measured job approval for presidents for decades, shows Trump's approval so far at 45%, with 48% disapproving. That's an average of several days' polling. The daily trend lines are not kind to the new administration. As of Saturday, 51% of Americans disapproved of Trump's performance. That's a record for the speed of getting to majority disapproval.

Here's how other presidents fared:

Given his historic levels of unpopularity, it wouldn't be ridiculous to start calling our president "Unpopular Donald." I bet he'd really hate that, though, so we'd better not do it.


Have a great week!