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Redesigning the American high school

EducationWorld September 05 | EducationWorld

It is time for a new approach to high school, redesigning the American high school to one that challenges students and gives them new opportunities to transition to college or careers.

In the National Governors Association we have identified ten steps governors (and/ or state governments) can take to quickly put states on the path to redesigning the American high school. These steps will hopefully lead many states to system-wide reform.

1. Create a permanent education roundtable or commission to foster coordination between early childhood, K-12 and higher education. Consolidation of educational governance would require many states to change their constitutions. However, governors can issue executive orders or support legislation creating an education roundtable or commission with clearly defined responsibilities.

2. Define a rigorous college and work preparatory curriculum for high school graduation. A rigorous high school curriculum improves high school achievement, reduces college remediation and encourages college completion. Reward schools that voluntarily change their curriculum and adopt it as a graduation requirement with a “Governor’s Merit High School” recognition program. Engage foundations and corporations to co-sponsor the recognitions and rewards.

3. Challenge business, education, parent, community and faith-based organisations to support initiatives that improve college awareness. Fewer than half of economically disadvantaged students receive college aid information. This mirrors gaps in college participation and completion between low-income and high-income students. Statewide initiatives such as “College Goal Sundays” and “College Access Networks” can broadly share information on college entrance requirements and financial aid applications.

4. Conduct college and work-readiness assessments in high school. High percentages of high school graduates are entering college in need of remediation. States are expending tremendous resources on remedial courses instead of college-level coursework. States can require all students to take a college readiness test in high school.

5. Create statewide common course agreements so that college-level work in high school counts towards a post-secondary credential. The promise of saving money on college tuition by getting a jumpstart on courses while in high school is meaningless if a college doesn’t accept earned credits. States can promote common course agreements that stipulate which core college-level courses taken during high school are accepted at any postsecondary institution so that all credits count towards a degree or industry certificate.

6. Provide financial incentives for disadvantaged students to take rigorous AP (advanced placement) exams and collegepreparatory and college-level courses. Financial incentives can motivate students to think beyond high school and make college seem like an affordable option for their future. States can make an early (grade VII) financial aid commitment to students who agree to take the rigorous college-prep curriculum. States that pay tuition for college-level courses at community colleges, or provide scholarships for students attending college while still in high school, see higher rates of program participation.

7. Expand college-level learning opportunities in high school to minorities, English language learners, low-income students and youth with disabilities. Data indicates these students are less likely to take advanced placement courses, enroll in college courses while still in high school or sit for industry-recognised certification exams. States can increase AP course enrollment in low-performing high schools; adopt or expand dual-enrollment policies to all students, not just the brightest; and expand technological access and course offerings for virtual high schools.

8. Help get low-performing students back on track by designing literacy and math recovery programs. Thirty-two percent of the nation’s eighth graders have below basic math skills; 26 percent are below basic reading skills. Extended learning opportunities in the 9th grade, including the summer before the 9th grade, before and after school and during elective periods, can help students get on track to take college prep classes by 10th grade. These students can be identified using existing 7th and/ or 8th grade assessments.

9. Develop and fund supports to help students pass the high school exit exam. Twenty states have mandatory exit exams for high school graduation, and five more are scheduled to withhold diplomas from failing students. Most states have initial pass rates of between 65 and 85 percent, with gaps up to 40 percentage points for black, Hispanic and low-income students. Supplementary programs- online tutorials, intensive intervention programs, summer academies and multiple opportunities for students to take exams can improve high school graduation rates.

10. Develop statewide pathways to industry certification
. Two-thirds of all new jobs created over the next decade will require some post-secondary education, but not necessarily a four-year degree. States can develop student contracts where the state pays for up to a semester of tuition for students who continue to take industry-specific training at their local community college. Particular attention should be paid to marketing these opportunities through partnerships with districts, technical and community colleges, and businesses.

Also read: OECD: Will schooling change?

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