A new report reveals that Washington D.C.’s public schools have increased their graduation rates despite marked declines in both reading and math.
The D.C. Policy Center report, which compared recent data with pre-pandemic statistics, shows an overall rise of 7% in graduation rates between the 2018-2019 and 2021-2022 school years.
But despite handing out more diplomas, the schools’ math and English language arts test scores declined 6-12%. The district also saw a 65% increase in chronic absenteeism, with almost half of students missing 10% or more of an entire school year.
Max Eden, an education expert at the American Enterprise Institute, says D.C.’s public schools could be intentionally graduating students who haven’t met the requirements. It wouldn’t be the first time: D.C.’s public schools were audited in 2018 over similar allegations.
“[When] graduation becomes close to a virtual guarantee, it also becomes pretty functionally meaningless,” Eden told Reason. “So you end up teaching kids a lot more poorly, both academically and, frankly, morally.”
The report showed that even though more students graduated high school, they were less likely to enroll in college. And if they did enroll, they were less likely to complete their degree.
Nationwide data follows a similar trend to D.C. Students are earning higher grades but scoring worse on national exams.
Even those who do score well often find themselves underprepared for college.
One proposed solution to the incongruity is eliminating high school graduation requirements altogether, purportedly for the benefit of minority and low-income students.
In addition to making a high school diploma meaningless, as Eden noted, critics worry this will lead to poor future job outcomes for graduates. Lowering or eliminating high school standards may help public schools save face, they say, but it’s doubtful if it helps anything else.