Mandatory High School Course is Just a Pretense of Education

Chris Powell


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With Governor Lamont’s signature on legislation last week, Connecticut will be doing more pretending about education. The new law will require high schools to offer and students to take a course on personal financial management. The course will be a prerequisite for graduation. 

Of course young people should have some familiarity with personal financial management as they go out into the world on their own, and many of them, having negligent parents, don’t get it at home. Because of parental neglect, students in Connecticut increasingly are chronically absent, missing 10% or more of their school days.  

But then young people graduating from high school also should master a lot more than personal financial management, starting with basic math and English, even as test scores show that half or more of Connecticut’s students graduate from high school without mastering the basics. Actual learning, demonstrated by passing a proficiency test, is not required for students to advance. Students will be required to take the personal financial management class, but no one will be required to pass it in order to graduate.

Indeed, can students who have not mastered basic math and English master personal financial management? Will making students sit through a course on personal financial management make them competent in math and English and personal financial management, when they are never required to show they have learned anything?

The General Assembly and the governor seem to think so.

Indeed, the legislature, the governor, and the state Education Department seem to think that merely prescribing various courses is equivalent to learning. Despite all those courses, Connecticut’s only real policy in education is social promotion. While “mastery tests” are occasionally administered in various grades, they mean nothing to students. The tests are just the illusion of academic standards. 

Students know this and many wallow in indifference. Performance on mastery tests might be better if the tests counted for something. In the absence of academic standards, student performance is only a matter of parenting, whose collapse has correlated with student performance.

But restoring standards by conditioning student advancement on academic performance might hurt some feelings and expose parental negligence. So Connecticut’s schools figure it’s better to award diplomas to everyone and let students discover that ignorance has consequences only once they’re on their own, qualified only for menial work and risking lifetime poverty.

Despite the new course in personal financial management, students who graduate without mastering basic math and English may not ever have much personal finance to manage. But the course will let state officials feel better about themselves, as unchallenged students do.

FREE SPEECH WINS: Why the hysteria about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision holding that an internet site creator in Colorado can disregard the state’s anti-discrimination law and refuse to create an internet site for a same-sex wedding?

The office of Connecticut Attorney General William Tong advises that the decision applies to narrow circumstances and will have little impact here and that the state’s own anti-discrimination laws remain in force.

But the principle of the Colorado decision will apply in Connecticut too, and contrary to the hysteria about the case, that principle is just, liberal, and in keeping with legal precedent.

That is, when an act of commerce is to a great extent a matter of freedom of expression, anti-discrimination laws cannot compel people to say what they don’t want to say. Instead the First Amendment applies. Government cannot compel speech, and creation of an internet site is a form of speech.

This principle can be traced to the Supreme Court’s decision in a case from West Virginia in 1943, where the court held that schools cannot compel students to salute the flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Anti-discrimination law still applies to the sale of other services and products. The exception covers only matters of expression.

Besides, what same-sex couple would want their wedding’s internet site to be created by someone to whom same-sex marriage is morally objectionable, especially when so many other internet site creators would welcome the work?


Chris Powell has written about Connecticut government and politics for many years. (