As a high school student desperate to graduate, I remember thinking that there just had to be a better way to go about this whole public school thing. I was miserable; my friends were miserable; the teachers seemed miserable. Did we really just have to accept high school as a necessary evil?
Well, several administrators and consultants are hoping the answer is no. First, the Obama Administration unrolled an ambitious plan to completely remake the country’s worst schools. And now eight states are offering new coursework that would allow high school students to graduate after their sophomore year. About 100 schools are participating in the pilot program, which organizers hope will eventually remake secondary education in the United States.
Based on the school systems of countries like France, England, and Singapore, the plan will offer new coursework which will prepare students to pass a host of tests designed to insure college preparedness, such as the International Baccalaureate Diploma and the College Board’s Advanced Placement program. Students who pass these board exams after tenth grade will be given the option of graduating and enrolling in a community college. Students who fail the first time around will allowed to take them again after their junior and senior years, while tenth graders who pass but hope to attend a selective college can continue taking college prep courses throughout their last two years of high school.
It’s a bit unnerving to expect those 15- or 16-year-olds who do enroll in college early to make a decision pertaining to their life career. But for kids who might not otherwise make it to college, this is a much-needed option. The knowledge that he or she could be out in the workforce and living independently by the age of twenty or so is sure to be a draw for some kids who might otherwise take time off after high school–or drop out–and then never go back to school.
The education experts behind the plan also hope the tests will reduce the need for students to take remedial courses once they begin college, leading to higher performance in secondary schools. And the board exam approach aims to give students a clearer framework of the requirements for success: You want to be a veterinarian (or lawyer or carpenter)? Take these classes; pass this test. Rather than rewarding students for simply taking enough classes to graduate, the new approach seeks to reward students based on their knowledge.
“We’ve been tied to seat time for 100 years,” said the Commissioner of Education of Kentucky, one of the states participating in the pilot program. “This would allow an approach based on subject mastery — a system based around move-on-when-ready.”
This sounds great from a purely academic point of view, but what about emotional readiness for college? Presumably, the majority of students who enroll in community college after their sophomore year of high school will continue living at home. But some are certain to be drawn to the lure of dorm life, which will mean living on a hallway with 21-year-olds doing keg stands.
But no plan to reform education is free of risks or is going to work for every student. And when it comes to the public school system in this country, I’d certainly rather risk ambitious innovations than maintaining the status quo.