The question of whether high schools are failing as institutions has critically important implications for the future of individual communities and the nation as a whole. Extensive research attention has been devoted to detailing the extent to which American secondary schools are inadequately preparing students for post-secondary education and their future careers…
Research evidence seems to indicate the problem may be one of inappropriate measurement methods; however, a more detailed examination of American secondary schools indicates that although measurement methods might negatively affect our estimates about how much high schools are failing students, an underlying problem still exists and it needs to be corrected. This underlying problem with secondary schools is one that revolves around the concept of accountability, and a number of issues emerge from unaccountable schools. An important consideration to make when considering the success or failure of American secondary schools is the statistics involved with either side of the argument. A graduation rate is a good indicator of whether a specific school is successfully educating and preparing its students. Therefore, it is essential to see whether the statistical measurements of graduation are actually correct or not. Swanson (analyzes American graduation rates across the country, and offers a resource for better evaluating and measuring the graduation crisis. The analysis points to a clear role for public policy in improving the conditions and environmental circumstances in which American secondary schools operate. An important consequence of this is that “the findings here do tell us that there is a strong and very detrimental linkage between graduation rates and the environmental conditions that go along with factors like poverty and segregation” (Swanson, 2003, p. 35). Accordingly, the author of this report is convinced that incorrect concepts of graduation rates leads to incorrect views (and incorrect solutions) of the educational crisis. That is, by identifying the environmental circumstances surrounding failing schools, officials can be better prepared with “better knowledge” about how to fix the problem. However, ascribing poor graduation rates to environmental circumstances (such as poverty and segregation) is a point of view that moves responsibility for failings away from the schools themselves. Swanson (2003) is suggesting that the only solutions to the graduation crisis can only come from successful interventions, which implies that internal changes to schools is not an effective strategy. But studies such as Chiang (2009) indicate that accountability pressure, which is defined as the “threat of sanctions on low-performing schools,” is not an effective tool when schools are able to manipulate the accountability system. Referencing claims like those made by Swanson (2003), Chiang (2009) argues that accountability systems within schools properly constructed and maintained make educational reforms more likely to generate test score gains. So, even if in fact American secondary schools are failing their students in terms of the students’ long-term benefits, improved accountability systems within schools will lessen the impact of environmental circumstances that decrease student performance. For instance, in some cases, sanction threats prompted schools to increase spending on instructional technology, which improved student performance. Knowing that accountability is the best solution for making sure secondary schools do not fail their students, one might compare that result with additional studies where accountability is a problem ...
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