First off, congratulations to my friend Tallie, who graduates today from Humboldt State University with a Political Science major and a French minor!

Tallie is an awesome girl, and she’s already started changing the world. We’ve been friends since high school and it’s awesome to see how she’s grown and changed (as have I, I suppose). She is a strong powerful woman now, and I am immensely pleased to see her graduating. Her educational path was all over the map–she studied abroad in France for a year, she spent a semester working for a non-profit pharmaceutical company, and she been to numerous protests all over the world. And this just scratches the surface on the intense amazingness that is Tallie. I am confident that whatever she does, it will be excellent, and I wish her good fortune in the adventures to come. And also I wish that she would visit.

I noticed one of the headlines in the Chronicle today was about the high school exit exam, and the controversy that has exploded around it. This was to be the first year in California in which schools would withhold diplomas from students who had not passed the examination. This policy struck me as grossly unfair, and I am pleased to see that Judge Robert Freeman agrees with me.

I have been opposed to the exit exam from the very beginning, because I believe there are other measures in place to measure fitness for graduation. Standardized testing is a notoriously slippery slope, and one that tends to be slanted in the favour of white middle class students. Low income students who have not had access to quality education, disabled students, and English learners struggle with standardized examinations. Testing is not a solution to problems with the educational system–teaching to a standardized test is not thoughtful, engaged education.

I understand the desire to test students in this way, to have an across the board standard throughout the state to judge how well students are performing, but unfortunately I don’t think testing is a good measuring stick. There are a myriad of factors which contribute to testing performance–quality of education and intelligence are only two of these factors. And penalizing schools for students who perform poorly on standardized tests is not an acceptable solution to me–neither is punishing young men and women who might be otherwise qualified to graduate.

Because here is the crucial point–all high schools in California have graduation requirements. There’s a minimum set by the state, but most schools have even more stringent requirements. (The high school Tallie and I graduated from, for example, included extensive community service, a 200 hour senior project, and more rigorous coursework in the graduation requirements–had we not met these requirements, we would not have graduated.) Testing advocates seem to be convinced that with the test being struck down, high schools will graduate students willy nilly. That’s not actually the case. As the Chronicle points out, 9% of last year’s graduating class didn’t actually graduate because they didn’t meet requirements.

I am not pleased with the state of American education, and the exit exam is only part of my displeasure. I think American students, in general, are not as well rounded and educated as their counterparts in other nations. I am all for increasing the standards for high school education–starting with bilingual education. Most European students, for example, graduate speaking three or more languages. American students can get away with only speaking one. In general, student performance and general education is better in other countries, and I think it leads to a better populace. I suspect that most reasonably educated Americans are embarrassed by our schools and the students that we graduate–and we should be pushing for active reform. The University system has put some pressure on American education, demanding more coursework from students who intend to attend universities, but that doesn’t solve the problem of the average high school graduate. Not everyone wants to go to college, and that’s all well and good. But I really feel strongly that most people in this country should be better educated.

Perhaps if we spent less money on mysterious pork projects, we could afford to have better schools. And here’s where you come in, gentle American reader–let your representative know that you disapprove of pork projects, including the ones ou sponsors. Impress upon your voice in the federal government the fact that you value education and think it should be a high priority. Give our students a chance to do well in life, to interact with people from other nations, to explore the world. Let’s fight waste in the higher levels of government so that we may improve the quality of life for the citizens, and the planet.