Monday, March 1, 2010

What shall we do about senior year?

In Sunday's NYT Magazine, Walter Kirn suggests:
If senior year were to vanish from our high schools, either completely or in part, would its infamous excesses, feats of sloth, dances and stretches of absenteeism shift to junior year? To some degree. But what also might happen is that the education process, if it was shortened and compressed some, might help kids think more clearly about their paths in life and set out on them on the right foot instead of waiting to shape up later on.
That sounds familiar. The Prichard Committee's 2005 report on High Achieving High Schools argued that:
The senior year is a special problem. The last year of high school is often a time when students fall behind because, having accumulated the credits they need for graduation, they choose easy electives, outside activities and paid employment instead of challenging academic work. The system as it now exists does not link the senior year with what lies ahead. A wasted senior year means diminished chances of success in postsecondary education or work.
The Prichard recommendations to redeem senior year included:
  • Stronger high school graduation requirements, to include an added half-credit in social studies and two years of a foreign language along with firmer specification of the mathematics and science to be studied.
  • A service-learning requirement for graduation.
  • End-of-course exams to set a consistent level of rigor statewide in key courses.
  • A new push to give students credit for demonstrated proficiency, freeing them from the seat time mandate of the standard Carnegie unit.
  • Expanded opportunities for college-level work during high school, to include both dual-enrollment opportunities and Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate programs.
Click here to download the complete report.

The Kirn piece argues that students should also be allowed and encouraged to finish high school early, as soon as they have the right level of skill to move on to further education or employment.  He cites the National Center on Education and the Economy's push for board exams that would allow an early exit for high school, along with Kentucky Commissioner Terry Holliday's description of the effort as "“move on when ready.” 

As the parent of two Kentucky students who collected a semester or more of college credit while in high school and a third who's heading that way, I think it's clear that not every student needs four years of high school to be ready.

As a citizen watching the overall data on student performance, I think it's also clear that many students need a full four years of high school--and better, more rigorous, more supportive high school than we're currently offering.

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Updates and data on Kentucky education!