There isn't a politician alive who doesn't love to talk about accountability, except when it's they and their backers and allies who are being held to account.
This reality explains why the high school exit exam that was supposed to be a requirement for graduation by the spring of 2003 was postponed once and faces the strong prospect of another delay.
It's not just the graduates who lose when this exam is put off, obfuscated and otherwise thwarted. The losers include every business in California that requires new hires to have a high school diploma. With an exit exam, they could be sure that each young adult they hire has some basic mathematical and language skills. Without the exam, their hiring is a crapshoot.
The grads, of course, are the first losers, because in this day of social promotion and grade inflation, no one can be sure what their diplomas mean. With an exit exam, anyone who deals with them could be sure they had mastered some minimal skills.
But the same whining that in 2003 caused the effective date for the test to be put off until 2006 has been heard across the land once again.
"With the high school exit exam," complains one bleeding heart Democratic legislator, "you go through 12 years of classes and everything rests on that one thing."
Not exactly. For this test is not a one-time thing. Students can start taking it in the 10th grade, then take it over and over again until they pass. They can learn their deficiencies early and work to correct them if they choose. Or they can ignore their deficiencies, live lazy and count on lawmakers like Democratic Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg of Hollywood and Democratic state Senate leader Don Perata of Oakland to bail them out.
That's precisely what this pair is now attempting. They proposed two bills questioning the fairness of the exit exam and delaying its effective date again, this time indefinitely. History shows that accountability delayed indefinitely is no accountability at all.
All members of the class of 2006 have already taken the test at least once, and three-fourths passed the English portion, while almost that many passed the math. About 60 percent passed both parts of the test and can forget about it.
Delay the effective date of the exam as a graduation requirement and those 60 percent of students who worked and learned would be no better off than their counterparts who didn't bother.
Perata and Goldberg also repeat the argument that got the test delayed two years ago: They claim that students and schools have not had adequate notification of the requirement.
That's absurd, as by the time the current effective date rolls around next year, all affected parties will have had at least three years notice atop what went before.
"I think we've given students ample notice," state Schools Supt. Jack O'Connell told a reporter. "To postpone it again would send the wrong message to schools."
O'Connell, a former Democratic state senator who in 1999 authored the bills that created the exit exam, is dead on right. Postponement would be another exercise of the abuse-excuse, with students who did not learn the basics when they knew they had to getting a soft landing on the premise that schools were inadequate.
But every student in the top 4 percent of his or her graduating class at those same schools is granted automatic admission to the supposedly elite University of California. If the schools are good enough to prepare students for the rigors of UC, they're certainly good enough to prepare other students for a standardized exit exam.
What's more, if there's one way to galvanize schools into action and make sure they shape up, it would be to deny one-fourth to one-third of their senior classes the right to graduate. Imagine the shock to the public education system if that ever occurred.
Even then, however, students who fail the test need not be denied the status of high school graduate, so long as they've passed all needed courses and met other requirements. They could be given alternate diplomas.
But those would be inferior, protest the whiners. Sure, and there have always been differences in standing among various diplomas. Someone who holds an M.D. or Ph.D. degree has done more and demonstrated greater depth of knowledge and skills than other college grads. Someone who graduates summa cum laude has more standing than a regular college graduate.
It would be no less fair to make distinctions among high school graduates.
The really unfair thing would be to delay the effective date of this test again, even though schools and students have known for seven years it was coming.
Write to political columnist Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org.