My older daughter recently graduated from El Cerrito High School. I attended her great graduation ceremony that featured two excellent student speeches, but through it all my appreciation of this public party was sullied by the way that it has been politicized by the majority faction on our School Board. I am referring to the decision by the School Board in January to only allow students who had passed the High School Exit Exam to participate in the graduation ceremony.

Here is the story from the Contra Costa Times about the last-minute protest of this at the June 6th meeting:
http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_6082367?source=rss

In order to properly understand this, it’s important to go back to the Spring of 2006. At this time a concerted effort was made by student and community groups along with Board member Dave Brown to have the School Board grant diplomas to students whether they had passed the Exit Exam or not.

Thankfully, this failed. It’s a State law and the school district is a government agency under the State, so it shouldn’t have some up at all. Also, I agree with the idea of a common State minimum requirement for a California diploma whether it’s a set of tests or some acceptable broader measure.

Once this attempt to defy the State failed to pass, a proposal to implement the Exit Exam was passed 5-0 (maybe 4-1?) that followed the moderate approach adopted in other districts. The main part of this is that students who are done with school receive a certificate of completion in lieu of a diploma and participate in the graduation ceremony with their families in attendance. The Exit Exam is upheld and some space is left for those who are uncomfortable with the Exit Exam. All is well…

Then, in November, a somewhat polarizing election occurs. In January, after the election, out of the blue, the now dominant (Ramsey-Pfeifer-Kronenberg) faction suddenly renegs on this arrangement and decides to show how tough they are by not just banning students who have completed high school from participating, but also refusing to issue certificates of completion and explicitly banning any alternative ceremonies for students who have completed high school without passing the Exit Exam. Although, in a later meeting, the Board inconsistently backed off a little by agreeing to issue Certificates of Completion, the rest of the renegging stood.

Where did this come from? Part of it was a simple political opportunity to stick it to the arch-nemesis of the dominant faction, Dave Brown. Great.

Another aspect of this is an extremely self-righteous moralizing attitude on the part of the dominant faction on the Board. To me, it’s very simple. You don’t pass the Exit Exam; you don’t get a diploma. You pass the Exit Exam; you get a diploma. But to others, this is an opportunity to vent a lot of bile along these lines:

“How pathetic the non-passers are. Why our family dog could pass the Exit Exam. We’re so great. The students who don’t pass are so inferior, yet somehow they and advocates for them have the nerve to have any opinion at all about this.”

Believe me, I’m not exaggerating that much. I’ve read a lot of comments on articles and blog entries on this subject.

Some of our leaders on the School Board have there own twist on this: It’s all the teachers’ fault. So, the teachers must be punished by punishing their “victims.” Along with being ridiculous, this is certainly (not) a great attitude to be projecting when our District is hurtling towards a teachers’ strike.

Anyway, now I’m done venting. The District needs to cut out the moralizing incivility. The way to do it in this case is to depoliticize the graduation ceremony and allow students who are graduating — for all practical purposes — with a certificate of completion to participate in the ceremony.

Update (6/24)

From wccusdtalk, I found out that the Alameda County Superintendent of Education, Sheila Jordan, has published an opinion piece in the Chronicle along the same lines I am proposing here:

An award for completing school