Welcome to Tennessee, Where a Diploma Isn’t Really a Diploma For Too Many

UPDATE: Immediately after this post was first published, I was directed to an article by Chalkbeat’s Grace Tatter published “22 hours ago” offering evidence that clearly refutes the numbers originally reported by the State Department of Education relating to Tennessee’s diploma drama. Even as the number of students who didn’t meet the necessary requirements is not as large as we thought (just a few minutes ago), I maintain one student is too many. So, the percentage of students affected doesn’t change the message of this post. And give us a break, SDOE!


So you know how our students graduate from high school believing when they walk across the stage for that hard-earned diploma they are ready for the next level? Yeah, not so much.

Thanks to a state-sponsored audit, we now know that a large portion of Tennessee graduates really didn’t graduate. Not at least with the necessary course requirements.

The data reported last week by NPR’s Blake Farmer looks at 2015 high school graduates in Tennessee, but I can’t help but wonder how many more cohorts of ill-prepared students were sent out into a black hole of postsecondary prospects.

The report responsible for fueling Farmer’s article was released by the Tennessee Department of Education titled Seamless Pathways – Bridging Tennessee’s Gap Between High School and Postsecondary. It’s clear the fault does not lie with students. The report suggests a faulty checks and balances system within our schools, which would be digestible if it didn’t heavily impact our students’ futures.


And sure, you might argue that missing a couple foreign language courses doesn’t mean our kids are graduating stupid. But the truth is, when our kids don’t get all the courses the state decided they need, there are very real consequences. The reason the department of education decided to look into this was because they noticed that so many of our graduates were struggling in college.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due (ha ha)

Even though thousands of our students have been stiffed, I’m offering up credit to Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner Dr. Candice McQueen for making real progress re-building the historically poor-performing state education framework. Discovering this massive failure in our schools that could prove fatal to our children’s postsecondary prospects and deciding to publicly address the problem gives me hope.

However, until corrected, we’ve got a serious problem. We have former students hanging in the balance between high school and career with no safety net. Because we failed them. Currently, our schools are inadequately resourced to properly prepare students post-high school. So, we are failing them.  

For me, the only thing scarier than discovering a devastating flaw in your system is uncovering a disconnect in awareness amongst those working the system. In this case, teachers and guidance counselors are working independently, unaware of what the other is doing, and students are falling through the cracks.

So, the picture becomes more clear. Guidance counselors are busy moonlighting as testing administrators and performing a gazillion other duties leaving little time for college preparation. Teachers, noticing the constant stream of students in and out of the guidance counselor’s office, believe the college stuff is handled. Of course, it’s more complicated than this, but it does illustrate the big, gaping holes to which our students are falling victim.

Let’s be clear, I’m not pointing fingers. But we cannot allow one more student to graduate unprepared. Just as we are trying to ramp up our graduation rate, let’s be sure to do it the right way.

You know how I like to say STAY VIGILANT? Well, here’s yet another reason to listen to your girl!

(By the way, my weekly rants about staying vigilant are not just for the reader. Believe me, I’m on a steady diet of practicing what I preach. Thanks to Betsy DeVos, a vessel representing both my hopes and fears, I eat and sleep all things accountability.)


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