The Center for Public Education made an argument in todays Education Week (registration required) on why schools should be given credit for students who take more than four years to graduate. Back in April, EdWeek published an article where several organizations expressed concern about allowing such credit to be given to schools.
The Center certainly understands their concerns.
But when students dont graduate on time, when they fall behind their classmates, we know what the alternatives are: (1) graduate late; (2) seek a General Educational Development credential; or (3) drop out of school altogether. This raises the question, are students better off graduating late than never?
In short, yes. The Centers Better late than never report, released earlier this year, clearly showed students are better off graduating late than not at all. The extra work late graduates and their schools put toward earning a high school diploma pays offnot only in academic outcomes, but in every aspect of life including work, civic, and health. Late graduates do markedly better than GED recipients and dropouts. Actually, in some cases, late graduates were just as well off after high school as their on-time classmates from similar backgrounds.
Of course, graduating on time should be the goal. But for students who fall behind — for whatever reason — graduating late is much better than not graduating at all. Schools that stick with such students should be rewarded, not punished.
Finally, instead of debating whether or not late graduates should be counted as graduates, we should be looking into incentives to keep all students in school until they earn a high school diploma. The Centers report on effective dropout prevention programs, Keeping kids in school, is a wonderful resource to find out how keep students from falling behind. And it also provides a wealth of information on how to get students who are behind in their classwork to stick with it and graduate. –Jim Hull