Saturday, December 16, 2006

A New-School Idea

I read an interesting article in the paper yesterday that outlined a possible way to change the entire landscape of high school in this country:
The report from the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce touches on all aspects of education, but some of its most unusual proposals would end America's nostalgic attachment to the four-year high school.

The report calls for a rigorous 10th-grade test that would allow those who pass to leave high school after two years and go on to technical or vocational training or academic work in preparation for a four-year institution.

The upper-level students left in high school would either be teens in remedial classes working to pass the exam or youngsters pursuing challenging academic work to enroll in state universities or land a spot at more elite institutions.
The commission's entire report may be found here; I haven't been able to read the site's summary of the report yet, but I plan to do so over the break. I can predict that some of the proposals outlined in the article--including raising teacher salaries by abandoning traditional teacher retirement systems in favor of 401(k) plans and the like--will be controversial, but at least someone's been thinking outside the box.

As far as the main proposal goes, it seems like a decent idea on the surface. There's been a running joke between me and a few of my high-school senior students that since they've already passed the TAKS test (that's Texas' standardized test that starts in third grade and eventually serves as the exit exam during the junior year), the school might as well have already given them their diplomas and said, "Have fun in community college." But while we were at least somewhat kidding, it appears that the panel is suggesting just that.

(As I've noted a few times, I'm no fan of the TAKS and its ilk, because it results in too much time spent "teaching to the test" instead of actually teaching people how to think and learn, and if it trumps everything else in terms of successfully completing high school, as it does in Texas, where you can pass all your classes but fail the TAKS and thus not graduate. But if passing the TAKS would actually let people graduate right then and there, I'd be likely to change my tune.)

So how would the influx of 16- and 17-year-olds affect the community colleges? From where I sit, it wouldn't be all that much different than now. We've had high-schoolers in most of my ensembles for as long as I've been teaching at the college; indeed, many of them have been my own students and their friends--future music majors or minors who wanted to hone their skills in a higher-level environment than their own high school ensembles often provide. Sure, there have been the occasional absentee issues (through no fault of the students' own), such as being on band trips or having Thursday night football games, that caused them to miss rehearsal a time or two, but there's never once been a situation involving a perceived lack of maturity in a high-schooler enrolled in any class of mine. Our school has a fairly large "concurrent enrollment" program where juniors and seniors can start college coursework while still in high school, so this idea is by no means exclusive to the music wing. There might have to be provisions made if the younger students actually left home and lived on campus, but all in all, I'm all for anything that makes the community colleges stronger and thus gives me more teaching opportunities. (For a slightly differing plan that's based on a similar idea, read this article from earlier in the year about a program that would combine the last two years of high school with the first two years of college; these "early college high schools" would also use the community colleges to achieve their goals.)

As always, such a radical idea won't get implemented without a fight (much like my Administrators Must Teach idea, which doesn't even have the benefit of a blue-ribbon panel behind it), but I'm glad that someone is thinking about this, and I hope that it becomes the subject of extensive conversation, because this may well be an idea whose time has come.

Oh deer, part 1: A hunter in Wisconsin bagged a seven-legged deer totally by accident (it ran across his driveway and accidentally got hit by his truck). The animal also had both male and female reproductive organs; what would you call that, a "duck" or a "boe"?

Oh deer, part 2: A guy got into a road-rage argument with another guy, who came after him with a most unusual weapon: deer antlers.

An idea whose time probably came long ago: New York transportation officials are seeking to ban alcohol on commuter rail lines.

Schroeder would approve: Happy Beethoven's Birthday! As I've mentioned before, I once had a party for him in high school; thankfully, Mom had us arrange a few candles into the shape of however many years old he was, rather than having us actually put 200-whatever candles on the cake.

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