Reducing the number of credits required for graduation is no magic-bullet solution to the dropout problem in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
We said last March that research shows most students aren't dropping out of school because of unattainable graduation credits. They're dropping out because not enough is demanded of them, and they're not getting the help or push they need to stay in school and learn.
The proposal presented to CMS board members last week appears to have taken those concerns to heart. The plan would reduce required CMS required credits to 24, not the N.C. state minimum of 20 – which some CMS board members had pushed and which, by the way, is absurdly below what South Carolina requires. Wake County mandates 26 credits.
The plan also requires the same number of credits in core subjects – math, science, English and the like. The four credits are mostly cut from electives, though two required credits in foreign language are being cut from the college prep track (now being called “Future Ready Core”; the other graduation track N.C. students can pursue is occupational or “OCS”).
Ditching a required second language is shortsighted. For students to be competitive in the global marketplace, being skilled in a second language is an asset. And school officials acknowledge that minimum admission requirements for UNC system universities require two years of a second language. Other colleges and universities nationwide require it as well. CMS, and the state of North Carolina, would be doing students a big favor by requiring it – and not leaving it to students to take as an elective.
But we agree with board vice-chair Molly Griffin that the plan does seem to create “much more flexibility and many more opportunities for the senior year.” It could allow motivated students to graduate in three years or spend a fourth taking courses, studying abroad or doing internships. And those are the kind of activities research shows will keep some students in school. The plan could also help frustrated struggling students by giving them more time to pass mandated courses. But CMS must help provide the academic and personal supports those students need to do so.
CMS must start much earlier to really have impact on dropouts. Again, research shows that students who drop out start struggling academically in elementary and middle school. If they are failing by eighth grade, they are on a direct path to dropping out. Parental support, focused instruction and challenging, inviting learning environments are key to changing that – not reducing graduation credits.