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By David W. Kirkpatrick (July 12, 2007)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us
A number of studies and commentaries have for decades pointed out the redundancy of high school and college. In the 1970s the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education issued a report which, after reviewing the last two years of high school and the first two years of college, recommended the elimination of one or two of the four years.
There has been limited activity to rectify this situation. One was the creation of Simon's Rock College in Great Barrington, Massachusetts geared directly to students 16-20 years old, accepting students directly from the sophomore year of high school. Simon's Rock was subsequently acquired by Bard College which itself has a policy of accepting many students after their junior year of high school.
Bard's president Leon Botstein has been one of the strongest critics of high schools. He believes the current high school curriculum hinders academic achievement, especially for average and below-average pupils. Another is Microsoft's founder Bill Gates, who is using his Gates Foundation to fund significant high school reforms, especially to create smaller ones
There have also been states such as Minnesota, which permit high school students to take college classes. There is also the Advanced Placement program by which hundreds of thousands of high school students take AP courses in their schools and subsequently take college-level exams in various subjects. Individual colleges and universities decide what credit they will give for such scores but it is common for highs school students to be accepted at college with full credit for the freshman year, or beyond.
Pennsylvania, has for years had a law that students who satisfactorily complete one year of college may be granted a regular high school diploma by their local school board. This writer's daughter took advantage of two of the programs mentioned here. A Pennsylvanian, she was accepted by Simon's Rock at the end of 10th grade. Her local superintendent not only recommended the local board award her a diploma after one year of college but she was permitted to wait two years at which time she acquired an associate degree at the same time she returned to her high school and graduated with her class.
A recent proposal to advance such reforms a step further has been proposed by the Yankee Institute for Public Policy in its publication, "Free College for High School Students," by its Executive Director, Lewis M. Andrews.
The report notes that "If the notion of condensing four years of high school into three is not new, neither does it turn out to be very difficult."
For one thing, most school districts define graduation requirements not in years of attendance but in needed courses which might be done in three years. Furthermore, hundreds of institutions of higher education do not require a high school diploma.
The fiscal specifics would vary from state to state but the Yankee Institute uses figures of $15,000 a year for high school students and $5,000 a year for tuition at a community college. Thus a student receiving a $5,000 scholarship to attend a community college instead of a 12th year of high school would receive a tuition free education for that year while the taxpayers would save $10,000 of high school costs.
A number of towns in Connecticut have already adopted variations from a four-year graduation sequence. Ridgefield offers 3.5 year curriculum. Others allow early graduation under certain circumstances. State law even allows 7th or 8th grade courses to satisfy high school graduation requirements if they are designed for that purpose.
In 2003 Florida Governor Jeb Bush established a voluntary three-grade curriculum for all of Florida's schools. Any student can take a "fast track" to graduation as long as they take all required courses. Yet there is no requirement that they give up the senior year if they wish, and they even have one chance to leave the accelerated path.
An even stronger example is the Canadian province of Ontario which, also in 2003, eliminated an entire high school grade. The only problem, not insuperable and a one-time event, was the unusually high number of applicants at Canadian colleges and universities.
A fringe benefit of a shorter, more meaningful high school curriculum might be fewer dropouts.
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"Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and research by Paul E. Barton at the Educational Testing Service suggest that over 60 percent of jobs don't require any college degree at all...Aiming to prepare 100 percent of students for the 40 percent of society's jobs that require college skills makes good politics, but bad economics, and it will create a lot of disappointment." James E. Rosenbaum, "Prepared for What?", p. 36, Diplomas Count, 2007, Education Week
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Copyright 2007 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633