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What's the Value of a Fresno Unified Diploma When These 'Classes' Are as Easy as A-B-C?
Opinion
By Opinion
Published 4 weeks ago on
June 13, 2024

Between 2014 and 2022, more than 21,000 Fresno Unified students got course credits that count toward graduation via Edgenuity classes. Critics say the classes require little work and are easy to pass. (GV Wire Composite)

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A regulation basketball hoop is 10 feet high.

Now imagine that, in some high school gyms, it’s been moved down a notch. Then it continues to edge down from time to time.

Steven Roesch Portrait

Steven Roesch

Opinion

Would making a basket have the same value under these altered conditions? Definitely not.

At what point would it be misguided to think of this as “basketball” at all?

Similar issues crop up when considering Fresno Unified’s decision to boost its high schools’ graduate rates — and to grant diplomas to a significant number of high schoolers֫ — with the aid of something called credit recovery.

So what exactly is credit recovery?

Let’s say that you’re a high school student, and you’re staring at a possible F in a course that you need to pass in order to graduate on time. The chances of getting a passing grade in the course seem to be beyond reach.

Enter Imagine Edgenuity, a company that guides students out of such a dilemma. By spending time in a computer lab and doing assignments designed by this firm, students can supposedly collect enough points to “earn” a passing grade and thus join their peers at commencement.

An instructor is in the room monitoring student progress — though not actually teaching, as that notion is commonly understood. For example, those who preside over Edgenuity sessions don’t necessarily have credentials in the subjects that the students there are “learning.”

Depending on a student’s speed, the workload might be finished within a few days — which means that several courses’ worth of credits can now be acquired in far less time than in traditional classrooms.

Online Content Doesn’t Match What’s Taught in Classrooms

Another issue: The content of the assignments isn’t aligned with the curricula for the classes that the students failed or are in danger of failing. Someone working with Edgenuity materials won’t necessarily be mastering the skills and knowledge that were covered in those specific courses.

“It’s not about learning,” remarked one Edgenuity instructor. “It’s about credit recovery.”

He added that the process is “like air traffic control.” By which he meant that, in his experience, interacting with the students in the room is neither required nor, apparently, encouraged.

Note that Edgenuity is a nationally available vendor. Scenarios such as these aren’t just happening in Fresno, but in other districts as well.

Overall, there hasn’t been much media coverage of this development in secondary education. However, two years ago a GV Wire article addressed the topic. Its disturbing title: “Are Fresno High Schoolers Cheating Their Way to a Diploma with Online Option?”

Finding the Answers on Reddit

Lauren Beal, an Edison High teacher interviewed for the article, labeled credit recovery “’morally bankrupt.’” She opted not to teach summer school in 2022 “because students can get a passing grade without doing any real work.”

Josh Camarillo, an Edison High alumnus, reported that other students had told him that cheating on Edgenuity was widespread. “’Quizlet and maybe Reddit are where most of the answers reside,’” Camarillo told GV Wire.

A few days ago, I searched for “Edgenuity” on Facebook and instantly found posts from individuals who, for a fee, would help people with specific Edgenuity assignments or even complete all of the remaining tasks in a course outright.

As another teacher in the district told me, “The cheating is an open secret — think ‘three monkeys’ imagery.”

A few years ago, one senior accumulated more than 40 absences and more than 60 tardies in one of his classes during a single semester. The points he’d accumulated added up to less than 10% of the total points possible. Thanks to credit recovery, though, he stood at close to 50% completion for that course after less than three hours’ worth of credit recovery assignments.

Edgenuity has become a part of the scenery, a part of the school culture in most of the district’s secondary sites.

Cobbling together the veneer of a high school education doesn’t come cheap, though: the GV Wire article notes that the district shelled out “$544,000 for unlimited use of Edgenuity in the 2021-22 school year.”

Students Know Edgenuity Is Easy and ‘There to Save Them’

Two years ago, I approached a district representative to learn more about the process.

She let me know that “the total number of students who have attempted Edgenuity courses (between 2014 and 2022) is 28,877,” and 21,407 got credits through this system during that eight-year period.

She let me know that “the total number of students who have attempted Edgenuity courses (between 2014 and 2022) is 28,877,” and 21,407 got credits through this system during that eight-year period.

To be sure, high school graduation rates have risen since the appearance of credit recovery. But such an improvement comes at the expense of actual education.

Edgenuity undermines the authority of teachers and the very meaning of regular classes and coursework. As one veteran instructor told me, “The huge con is that students have no incentive to do the work the first time around because they know Edgenuity is there to save them and it’s easy.”

Indeed, why take regular classes seriously at all if the safety net of credit recovery can rescue you from academic mishaps?

Fresno Unified Must Commit to True Academic Achievement

Edgenuity does, of course, have its defenders, and even this teacher noted that “the pros are that kids can catch up easily if they messed up and it keeps classes from being bogged down with students that didn’t pass the year before.”

Still, despite such apparent advantages, it’s hard to feel comfortable with something that’s so ethically dubious and educationally hollow. Like that modifed basketball game, something essential has been lost.

From time to time, Fresno Unified has asked local voters to support their schools, and soon the district may well do so once again. Should the measure be successful, the physical structures at many sites can be improved — something that’s clearly needed.

Also needed, however, is a commitment on the part of the district’s leadership to true academic achievement, one that eschews gimmicks like Edgenuity and insists on clear and rigorous standards that must be met before students can earn a high school diploma.

When all is said and done, that’s the only way that the game of education can honestly be played.

About the Author

Before his retirement, Steven Roesch taught English and German for 30 years in Fresno Unified School District.

Make Your Voice Heard

GV Wire encourages vigorous debate from people and organizations on local, state, and national issues. Submit your op-ed to bmcewen@gvwire.com for consideration.

 

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