Provide a Guarantee for Graduates of Texas High Schools

The state should guarantee the abilities of its high school graduates to employers.


Background
According to a study by the W.T. Grant Foundation, full-time employment and real earnings for young adults have declined substantially since 1973. 1 The explanations for this decline are complex, but one reason is that employers are hesitant to hire youth and young adults. One common employer complaint concerns the abilities of high school graduates. In the U.S., 13 percent of high school graduates ha ve minimal reading skills, compared with only 1 percent of Japan s graduates. 2 Meanwhile, skill-level requirements for most jobs are rising. To maintain competitiveness, American businesses need competent entry-level workers.

Consequently, state and local governments across the nation are starting to guarantee the quality of their high school graduates to employers. Guaranteeing high school graduates places accountability on the states and their educational institutions for ensuring the abilities of their students. A guarantee assures employers that their expec tations of high school graduates are met or their schools will take them back and retrain them at no cost to the empl oyers. The guarantee also provides an incentive to schools to make the maximum effort to graduate only those students who have achieved a required level of proficiency. While critics may view the guarantee as a gimmick, program supporters say it represents and makes tangible a genuine commitment to education and the development of a high quality work force.

Colorado has a program that guarantees that by July 1, 1995, a Colorado high school diploma will certify that the graduate holding it possesses the skills necessary to enter the workplace or post-secondary education. 3 If organizations hiring these graduates find that they do not have the guaranteed skills, the schools will work with their graduates to correct the situation. West Virginia and Ohio have implemented similar statewide graduate-guarantee programs.

Prince Georges County, Maryland, has implemented a county-wide program in its high schools similar to Colorado s guarantee program. While Colorado guarantees its graduates overall accomplishments, Prince Georges County s Guaranteed Employability Program guarantees specific coursework taken by its graduates. Upon completion, students receive a certificate confirming their competence in the specified courses. Students needing retraining can enro ll in adult education classes or counseling free of charge for up to one year following graduation. Each year, the county re-evaluates and adds courses to the certified curricula. 4 The Prince Georges Chamber of Commerce attributes the program s early success to the fact that local businesses helped establish the criteria for earning the guarantee and that the schools are standing behind their products. 5

The Los Angeles Unified Schools also have a Graduate Warranty Program. This program promises that by June 1994, the district will issue a warranty affirming the quality and appropriateness of each student s preparation. 6 Students that will be affected by this program currently are in the tenth grade. The district uses basic competencies and skills identified by the U.S. Department of Labor Secretary s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) as the basis of its warranty. Either the graduate or the employer can request remedial assistance, which is provided through special SCANS classes developed by the district s Adult and Occupational Educational Division.The program is funded through the state s adult education fund, the federal Job Training Partnership Act and other sources; there is no cost to the graduate.

Plymouth-Carver, Massachusetts, gives a three-year warranty for its graduates, but has had no redemptions of its graduate warranties during the program s three-year existence. 7

The Harlem Consolidated Schools near Rockford, Illinois, include attendance and attitude criteria along with academic and vocational criteria in their program. These additional criteria are included because the district believes that business and industry not only want a candidate with the basic skills, but also someone they could count on being there every day, with a good attitude, who could be a team player. 8

The Chesapeake school system in Chesapeake, Virginia, guarantees its graduates for five years following graduation. The system directs these students to adult evening classes, if necessary. The Rock Island-Milan, Illinois School District plans to use volun teer teachers to accommodate its returning graduates. 9

The Lubbock Independent School District in Lubbock, Texas, has a graduate-guarantee program for its vocational programs. The guarantee covers vocational education graduates for two years after graduation. Assistance is provided for free in situations specified by the district. 10 Lubbock s emphasis is on vocational education because it believes that the greatest need for retraining will come in fields, such as automotive engineering, where technology is changing rapidly. 11

The St. Joseph, Missouri, school district has a graduate warranty program that is used by the chamber of commerce to recruit new businesses to the community. Steve Price, director of e conomic development for the chamber, believes that their graduate guarantee program has had a positive effect on their community s ability to attract business and industry. 12


Recommendation
The Legislature should mandate a guarantee program for the state s high school graduates, which should take effect for graduates in 1995. The Commissioner of Education should be required to establish statewide minimum policies for local school districts to use in developing their graduate guarantee programs. The Commis sioner should be required to develop these policies in conjunction with school districts and representatives of businesses and various industries from across Texas.

The Commissioner should develop necessary policies for program implementation and continuity statewide, while local districts should develop procedures for establishing the program in their communities. The statewide policy should identify the guarantee pr ocess basic requirements, including the nature and the minimum extent of the guarantee and the steps in the guarantee process.

Local school districts should determine how these policies would be implemented in each community. The involvement of parents, businesses and other community members would be needed to assist in identifying the performance skills students should have upon graduation. 13 The district should also establish the period of the guarantee (beyond the state minimum), methods of reporting deficiencies, the method of financing remediation, the type and length of remediation and t he method of evaluating the results of remediation. Participation in the program should be voluntary for graduates, and they should be able to choose adult education alternatives to high school.


Implications
This recommendation would improve the quality of all high school graduates, both college-bound and non-college-bound. Employers would have more confidence in potential employees who are a product of the new system.

Consequently, it could lead to higher employment rates for youth and increased income, which, in turn, could lead to reduced crime, gang activity and other social problems.


Fiscal Impact
The fiscal impact to the state would involve policy development for the program, which should be negligible, according to the experience of other states, and could be absorbed by the Texas Education Agency. No new state funds would be used to finance the c ost of remediation for students.

Individual school districts would develop the financing mechanisms for the remediation. These could include adult bas ic education programs, Job Training Partnership Act programs, local school district funds or other funds. Because so many different mechanisms exist to fund remediation and because the programs would differ from district to district, insufficient data exis t to calculate the cost to local school districts. The experience of local school districts in other states indicates that the costs to districts are negligible.



Endnotes
1 William T. Grant Foundation, The Forgotten Half: Non-College Youth in America (Washington, D.C., January 1988), pp. 21-23.
2 Michael Wolff, et al, Where We Stand: Can America Make It in the Global Race for Wealth, Health and Happiness? (New York: Bantam, 1992), p. 53.
3 Colorado Department of Education, Colorado s Guaranteed Graduate Process, Denver, Colorado (Program brochure).
4 Prince Georges County Public Schools, Guaranteed Employability Program, Upper Marlboro, Maryland (Program brochure).
5 Jay P. Goldman, Satisfaction Guaranteed or We ll Take Our Graduates Back! The School Administrator, vol. 49, no. 3 (March 1992), pp. 22-24.
6 Los Angeles Unified School District, Diploma Warranty Program, Los Angeles, California (Program brochure).
7 Goldman, pp. 22-24.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Lubbock Independent School District, The Lubbock ISD Promise for Lubbock Graduates, Lubbock, Texas (Program brochure).
11 Goldman, pp. 22-24.
12 Ibid.
13 Colorado Department of Education.