Two Thursdays ago, I called the phone number -- 305-716-0909 -- listed on a sign, reading simply "High School Diploma", that I spotted tied to a downtown street post. Last Friday, after completing five take-home tests and forking over $399, I was given the pictured diploma and a transcript full of four full grades of classes I didn't complete.
InterAmerican Christian Academy, the "high school" -- actually an office in Doral -- that gave me the diploma may be educationally without merit, but that doesn't mean its diplomas and transcripts aren't accepted by local institutions of higher education. Miami Dade College, according to its registrar, has accepted 88 InterAmerican graduates in the seventeen months it's been churning out diplomas.
InterAmerican's administrators didn't know that their new 28-year-old student was a reporter -- and they also didn't know that I gave their tests to five public school children aged 8 through 13. I copied their answers, and apparently passed handily.
I've embedded the tests, along with the transcript I received at graduation, below. The tests composed the academy's entire curriculum. I'm pretty sure I didn't take Advanced Spanish, or "Bussiness", or "Professional Porfolio".
My favorite test is the English Literature exam, completed by an 8-year-old girl. As reference material, the academy had given me a four-page summary of The Old Man and the Sea. My iCarly-loving volunteer named the author, identified the main character, and explains the novel's conflict thusly:
The conflict of this story is Santiago tries to catch a fish, for eighty-four days. But Santiago gets a fish but it tries to run away from him going northwest. He tries to pull the fish back. The other conflict is Santiago tries to fight his old age.
On my transcript, I was given an 'A' in English Literature. She's a bright 8 year old, to be sure, but InterAmerican's tests make the GED look like a bar exam.
But in Florida -- where private schools are among the least regulated in the nation -- there's nothing particularly illegal about operating an apparent diploma mill. "If a school like that exists," Cheryl Etters of the Department of Education told me, "we might know about it, but we can't really do anything."
The full story of my one-week odyssey through bogus academia will be published in the upcoming issue of New Times.