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Straight Talk By Al Jacobs

By Al Jacobs

Though it’s taken many years to accomplish, the Santa Ana Unified School District, with 57,250 students – the largest in relatively prosperous Orange County, California – recently announced a phenomenal achievement: a record graduation rate, with 95 percent of its students receiving their high school diplomas. For a school district in which many of the students traditionally fail to complete their courses of study, this appears to be heartening news.

In checking the performance of the graduating class a year earlier, school reports showing test results in English language revealed their proficiency to be at 39.11 percent, which amounts to a collective dead failure. Their scores on mathematics were, if possible, even worse: 18.85 percent. We must only wonder how they managed to improve so dramatically that 19 out of 20 of them received high school diplomas.

Perhaps a little investigation into nearby Los Angeles Unified School System may give a few hints. In case you’re unaware, three-fourths of LA Unified students who, in 2016, took the statewide Common Core-aligned tests for math, and two-thirds who took the tests for English, failed to meet state standards, this according to data released by the California Department of Education. Nonetheless they achieved a 77 percent graduation rate in 2016, the largest in recent history, with predictions of a 100 percent graduation rate in the future. This, of course, defies logic. The only way it’s possible is that the school simply delivers a certificate of graduation to everyone, irrespective of performance. Could it be Santa Ana is emulating Los Angeles, or is that unthinkable?

During my ten years as a classroom instructor, I made a fascinating discovery. My bright students who worked hard did well. Those who were bright but slacked off, as well as those who were not particularly bright but worked hard, managed to get by. Those who were neither bright nor hard-working failed. Nothing is more predictable than that a methodical program by professional educators, gaming the system to show achievement, will result in ever greater sums of money being pumped into the process – with the obvious intent these dollars will find their way to the perpetrators. However, it must invariably end with the sort of results we now witness. Large numbers of smiling graduates is not the purpose of schooling, for education is not a collective endeavor, it’s a singular achievement.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, issues a monthly newsletter in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. You may view it on

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