NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Dumbing Down Our Schools

June 24, 2003

A Public Agenda 2001 survey that found 86 percent of parents thought there should be a basic skills or more challenging test in order to receive a high school diploma, while only 12 percent thought it a bad idea.

Yet, sensitivity to social injustice has led to a fear of failure and to a policy of minimal measurement in our nation's schools, says Pete du Pont (National Center for Policy Analysis).

This in turn has led advocates to attempt to block high school graduation tests.

  • In New York, 25 different organizations, from the teachers unions and civil-rights advocacy groups to the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, have opposed exams and the very idea of student assessment.
  • In Massachusetts, the teachers union launched a $600,000 advertising campaign against testing, and the Cambridge school board voted to scrap the graduation requirement tests.
  • In Florida, a coalition of groups has launched a boycott of state products and tourism until Tallahassee discontinues graduation tests.

Resistance against graduation testing standards is having an impact:

  • While Texas is raising its passing threshold (its failure rate is only 5 percent) and Florida is continuing to test, Arizona has delayed its testing deadline and California is considering a delay.
  • Michigan switched from a mandatory graduation exam to a "differentiated diploma," and Wisconsin allowed school districts to opt out from the graduation exam.

Plumbers and pilots, surgeons and CEOs must meet standards; if students are to succeed in these and other jobs they must meet them too. Dumbing down education is a devastating approach that will constrain students' lifetime opportunities. It is time to replace it with testing, standards and a commitment to excellence, just what states like Florida and Texas are trying to do, says du Pont.

Source: Pete du Pont, "You Can't Outlaw Failure: It only makes it harder to succeed,", June 10, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required)


Browse more articles on Education Issues