Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Reforming Public High Schools: The Unmentioned "D" Word

Recently, Governor John Baldacci of Maine facilitated a "town hall" type meeting with dozens of high school students where the topic of discussion was the re-making of American high schools. This piece by The Christian Science Monitor gives a brief overview of some of the ideas that are being considered:
The dialogue was one in a series of student town hall meetings convened around the country by the National Governors Association over the past year, and part of a broader discussion that has come to include everyone from educators and business leaders to President Bush.

Students continue to drop out of high school at an alarming rate - in some groups, as few as half of students graduate. Those who do graduate too often are unprepared for college or work. Recent studies have found that many high-schoolers feel unchallenged and unengaged. This, and the shift from an industrial to a global, knowledge-based economy, has made rethinking high school a priority for many.

To some degree, high school has been thought unfixable, its institutional culture too entrenched. "The story of the American high school is extremely powerful," says Paul Schwarz, principal in residence at the US Department of Education under President Clinton. During his tenure, Mr. Schwarz pointed out that while money was being poured into elementary and middle schools, high schools were largely ignored. He was told that tackling high school was too big a task. But he's encouraged by the newfound willingness today.
These are the measures for reforming public high schools that were briefly discussed by The Monitor:
Challenging curricula.

In an attempt to undo tracking, many districts and states are implementing college-preparatory curricula for all their students. The Los Angeles Unified School District recently decided to make college-prep standard, and similar moves are afoot in Oklahoma, Indiana, Mississippi, and Delaware. But critics wonder if imposing a one-size-fits-all approach is the best solution.

Small schools.

The idea of splintering large high schools into smaller learning communities has been evolving since the 1970s. However, it remained a fringe effort until it was championed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; its grants have been awarded to more than 1,500 schools in 42 states.

Early college.

Some schools, like Bard High School Early College in New York, enable students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate of arts degree. In 2002, 57 percent of colleges and universities enrolled high school students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. College-level courses, like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, are also becoming more popular; 1.1 million students took AP exams last year.

Eliminating grade levels.

Rather than having students earn credits to advance to the next grade level, under this system there would be no 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grades. Mastery of a subject would determine whether a student moved on to the next level. And students would retake only classes they failed, rather than repeat a grade. Boston Public Schools have explored this system.

Did you notice what was missing from all of these proposals? As a classroom teacher, "it" jumped right out at me: Each and every one of these ideas focus on some proposed change in the way the traditional American high school goes about accomplishing its task of preparing students for work or college. But none of these proposals say a thing about what the students or their parents should be doing differently in order to ensure that positive educational reform becomes a reality rather than a noble-sounding ideal.

Nothing is said about the duty (yes, that's the "d" word) that students and educators have to put forth their best efforts to teach and learn the more challenging curriculum that many states and districts have adopted in this age of content-area standards and increased accountability.

Sadly, the need for students, as well as educators, to fulfill their duty to help foster a clean, safe, orderly, and nurturing school climate conducive to learning is never spoken of in these MSM articles. To the contrary, some even believe the counterproductive notion that self-control and consideration for others, what used to be known as "good manners," is somehow unimportant and almost trivial.

There is no mention of the duty incumbent upon parents to ensure that their children arrive at school on time, rested, and prepared to learn. In these articles, there is almost universal silence when it comes to requesting that parents perform their duty of supporting the school's efforts by responding to the school's requests for information, attendance of parent-teacher conferences, and checking that their child's homework gets properly done in a timely manner.

In a quote that is well known to almost every graduate of The United States Military Academy, Robert E. Lee once said, “Duty is the most sublime word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.”

He was right.
Entries for this week's Carnival Of Education (guest-hosted by Jenny D) are due tonight. They should be sent to: jdemonte [at] comcast [dot] net no later than 10:00 PM (EDST) 7:00 (PDST) The Carnival midway should open at Jenny's place tomorrow morning.

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