Y'all, this one is up there on the list of questions I get asked all the time.
"Should we keep pushing and pushing for a diploma? Or should we settle for a special education certificate?"
And I know why it's a frequent question! Parents are always concerned that the choices they make for their children will be the wrong ones. That concern gets amplified, however, when a choice appears to dramatically alter the direction of their kid's future. I get it.
While my first answer to this question is the standard, "Only you know what's best for your child," here are three pieces of advice if you're considering whether your child should be on a general diploma track versus an alternative track (such as one working toward a special education certificate, attendance certificate, occupational diploma or other):
1. Think about what you and your student want for their future. Is a traditional diploma necessary? Let's think long-term. Does your child want to go to college? Have a paying job? Live in an apartment? Drive their own car? Consider whether it is necessary to have a traditional diploma to achieve these goals. Then, truly consider whether there are alternate routes to get there. I have many students who are working and earning above minimum wage (some even with benefits!) without having a standard diploma. These days, there are options for students to go to college without a traditional high school diploma-- a student can take classes at most community colleges without a diploma, and many 4-year universities allow students to transfer in course credit from 2-year programs provided that a certain GPA is earned. Other programs waive admissions requirements like a diploma or ACT score if the applicant is over the age of 21.
The GED is also a good option if a traditional diploma is too much of a challenge. I had a student, Mark, who did not receive a traditional diploma in high school but eventually got his GED over the course of 6 years, focusing on (and passing!) one section at a time, slowly but surely. There are some goals that will truly necessitate a traditional high school diploma, but for many others there are alternate ways to get there. Think about what your child wants for his or her future, and whether a high school diploma is the only way to achieve it. Many times, it's not.
2. Think about what you and your student what for their future. Is a traditional diploma sufficient? Maybe your student does need a traditional diploma to achieve a certain goal, or maybe it's important to them (or to you!) that they graduate with one. While that diploma may be required for their desired next step, is the diploma alone sufficient to get them there? Occasionally I'll work with a family whose student desperately wants to attend a 4-year university and to live on-campus in a dorm with their peers. They don't want to take an alternative route to get there, and everyone agrees that a traditional high school diploma is the most obvious stepping stone to prepare them. So the family pushes and pushes and pushes and the student gets the diploma (often by the skin of their teeth)...and then there's another roadblock. The ACT, the SAT, the required writing sample, the required G.P.A.... It is heartbreaking when a student works their tushy off to get that diploma, only to realize that their goal is still out of reach because of another challenge.
When considering your child's future goals, it's important to consider the question of diploma choice in conjunction with all other requirements for the goal. Don't get so caught up in getting the diploma that you lose sight of the additional steps that may be required in order to get to the desired destination after high school.
3. After school, skills matter more than school. Is a traditional diploma worth the sacrifice in other areas? One of my favorite "motivational" quotes: You know what they call doctors who got all Cs in school? Doctors. And it's true! I worked super duper hard in college to graduate Summa Cum Laude. I was named the top graduating student in my area of focus. And you know what? No one has ever asked me about my G.P.A. in a job interview. No one has ever wanted to read my M.Ed thesis. What do they want to know instead?
If I'm responsible.
If I am a team player.
If I'm a problem solver.
If I have the background knowledge and experience to do the job.
If THEIR job will be easier if they hire me.
Sometimes I'll work with families who are so caught up in getting the diploma that they've sacrificed everything for it. Their student spends hours per week in tutoring-- hours that could be spent volunteering, developing hobbies, or in social situations with peers. Their student struggles to keep up in Algebra when they could be doing work-based learning in an industry they're passionate about. And what typically happens is that the student gets the diploma, but they don't have the real-world requisite skills...because they didn't have any margin to work on anything but the diploma. And the diploma alone isn't enough anymore.
Hear me out: there is value in a traditional diploma. But do not think of an alternate course (whether you've chosen it or whether it's the only realistic option) as a death sentence for your child's dreams.
An alternative to a high school diploma may give your child what they truly need-- the time and the space to develop the real-world, practical skills that will be useful as they look toward their goals. And besides, there may very well be other ways to get to the same destination without the diploma.
If you're pondering this question and the idea of "settling" is eating you alive, here's my permission: It's okay NOT to fight for a traditional high school diploma if it doesn't make sense for your student.