Monday, May 15, 2006
The Value of a High School Diploma
Back in the 1980's when I was hiring entry level food service workers on a regular basis, whether or not they had a high school diploma could be an important factor in whether or not they got an interview. I never asked about GPA, areas of study, or... well, really anything about the academic side of their diploma. The diploma correlated in my experience with a better set of core competency skills (for example, I would not have to explain to the employee how to measure 1/4 pound on a digital scale), and during times when there was a large stack of applications it was an easy way to narrow the pool of applicants under consideration.
Really, in today's era, what sort of job do you get on the basis of a high school diploma alone? If you choose employment over college, the range of job opportunities available to you narrows each year. Now yes, a prospective employer should be able to anticipate that a high school graduate will be able to translate fractions to decimals when selling sliced meats or cheese in the deli, but how many jobs which are available to high school graduates expect much more than that?
I started to write this before I saw Mike's post over at Crime and Federalism describing the abuse of accommodation of disability by law school students, which in turn leads to Walter Olson's implication that somebody will suffer harm if students who have successfully completed all of their coursework, but fail a standardized graduation test, get their diploma. The thing is, a high school diploma isn't worth much on the job market beyond signifying that you have successfully completed all of your coursework. The last time I saw an application form for a fast food restaurant, at the time Burger King, they included a math test for all applicants. Even in a different era, when a high school diploma was a requirement to get into a union job that could potentially pave your way to a solidly middle class lifestyle, you had to get through the interview. So who, exactly, is hurt if these kids get their diplomas?
(If it needs saying, I'm not arguing in favor of the status quo, and I favor improving schools to the point that it wouldn't occur to people that such a test were even necessary.)