Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tough Choices, Tough Times

New Hampshire hit the front lines in the education reform battle this week with a plan that allows the potential for high school graduation at sixteen. That's not the ability to drop out at sixteen, but graduate. Before you react, however, you may want to check out the caveats. The plan which apparently passed the legislature on October 30th allows students to take a test at sixteen, or the conclusion of sophomore year, and if they pass, they are admitted to community colleges or trade schools. Students who remain in school will take a more rigorous college-prep curriculum based on the AP or IB model, and they will subsequently take a test for admittance into a four-year university. There is much more to the plan, but I am intrigued by the premise. It bears resemblance to a school reform model that premiered earlier this year called Tough Choices, Tough Times, and it resembles the philosophy of European- and Asian-based school systems, many of which are often envied and mentioned by critics of American public schools.

Over the years, I have gone back and forth on the idea of college-prep for all, and having taught in Taiwan, I am familiar with the philosophy that not all are meant for college. It's a valid assertion, though the problem has always been determining who is and who isn't. Can one test determine that? Does that put too much pressure on thirteen and fourteen-year-olds to know who they are? Or, have the early teens been too free from responsibility for too long, as noted recently by Newt Gingrich in an interview about adolescence and college readiness. As Gingrich notes, adolescence is pretty much an invention of the twentieth century, and people like Benjamin Franklin graduated high school at thirteen; I believe he finished Harvard by sixteen. Ultimately, I have long felt that we need a little more of the rigor from Europe and Asia while maintaining the belief that all students can go to college if they want, and our system should always afford the opportunity for that.

After Tough Choices, Tough Times, some Colorado legislators mentioned they'd like Colorado to be the lab for this experiment in school models. I was hoping they might. It looks like New Hampshire will be the place to watch now.


Dennis Fermoyle said...

Michael,it's interesting that you would write this post at this time. On Friday, I was in my AP American Government class, which is made up entirely of seniors, and I thought to myself that kids like them were probably the only ones who were benefitting from still being in high school. The other kids seem to be just putting in time, and, I'm afraid, learning very little.

mazenko said...

I have the same feelings when I am teaching AP Language to my honors juniors, versus when I teach English 11. In fact, that has been a topic of conversation in my department the past couple of years. As more kids move to AP (we now have more honors sections than regular level in a school of 3600), the regular levels seem gutted, and those anchor kids just aren't there. Yet, we send 93% on to four year colleges. The concern is how many of those are truly prepared and will finish. I know numerous former "D" students who are doing well as plumbers and pipe-fitters. Tough Choices definitely has validity, and shouldn't be discounted.