Monday, November 10, 2008
College at 16?
This is one of those ideas that carries in it a real grain of truth, but that takes it much too far.
The grain of truth is that the later part of high school is frequently academically spotty. Since many states only require, say, two or three years of most subjects, many seniors start senior year already having met nearly every graduation requirement. In most cases, states deal with that through sponsoring 'dual enrollment' with local community colleges, and/or through AP or IB courses. All of those arrangements allow the junior or senior who is already bumping the academic ceiling of high school to take college-level courses, sometimes for dual credit, while remaining enrolled in high school. (In my limited observation, the advantage of dual-enrollment over AP or IB courses is the difference between transcripted credits and test scores. Some colleges that will only use AP scores for placement purposes -- rather than actually granting course credit -- will accept transcripted credits in transfer.)
Nationally, the trend in average age of cc students is conspicuously downward, which is at least partially a reflection of the popularity of dual enrollment. Add a whole cohort of 16 and 17 year olds, and the effect on a college's average age is predictable.
The New Hampshire plan apparently takes dual enrollment all the way out. Instead of taking some college courses in high school, why not truncate high school altogether and get a jump on college?
It strikes me as a little too convenient.
First, there's that part about 'those who want to go to a prestigious university...' Why would prestigious universities want an extra two years of academic preparation? Could it be that...I'm going out on a limb here...there's some academic value to those last two years? Perhaps that the typical 18 year old is more mature than the typical 16 year old? I'm guessing that the student who has had pre-calc in high school will do better in calculus than the student who hasn't. Call it a hunch.
There's also the democratic rite of passage part of high school. I get as tired of the high school 'coming of age' dramas as everybody else, but I think part of the reason they survive is that high school is the last time that every social class is forced to cohabit. Granted, residential segregation does a number on that, but even so, high school is a common experience. Yes, some of it amounts to what Newt Gingrich memorably called 'subsidized dating,' but I'd even suggest there can be developmental value in that.
My preferred solution would be to greatly improve the academic quality of the average high school experience. The tippity-top is already sufficiently challenged, what with dual enrollment and AP/IB courses and the whole selective-college-application-dance. But the vast majority doesn't fit that description. That's where the work needs to be done. Rather than throwing up our hands and simply making community colleges the new 11th grade -- which, if implemented, would have the disastrous effect of making community colleges the new 11th grade -- let's fix the 11th grade. Prepare the students so they're capable of succeeding at whatever comes next, whether it be college, trade school, the military, or work. Any of those requires a certain work ethic and sense of responsibility, along with a decent sense of math, writing, and the basic facts of the world.
Anyway, that's my first take. Wise and worldly readers -- especially those in New Hampshire -- what say you?
The reason I ask is that is seems like there are at least two ways to think about what to put into those final two years of high school. On the one hand, we could require students to do more (e.g., graduation now requires 4 years of math, and as a result expect that more students will have been exposed to pre-calc in high school). On the other hand, we could spread the curriculum out so that, e.g., math teachers have extra weeks in their classrooms to make sure students understand algebra 1 concepts; the goal of this approach would be to make sure that more students can actually demonstrate the skills they should have acquired in high school when they show up to college.
My perspective is as a teaching assistant in a humanities discipline; when I grade papers from students in the university's core classes, I am constantly surprised by how few students can do what I consider basic critical writing skills, such as stating a thesis. I wonder if it might be better to use the time in high school to give students more intensive practice on these basics so that, when I (or others) get them in a college classroom, I can avoid having to spend a full class explaining what a five-paragraph essay is.
We have zillions of "developmental" courses in reading, writing and math, because our sudents are not prepared for college when they get out of high school. Really, they aren't prepared for general jobs that require a basic set of academic skills. Sure, they are prepared to work as shirt folders at the GAP -- but, with their high school education, they won't be competitive for any kind of promotion. That is an outrage. The taxes are high here, their parents are wealthy and they can't read -- but, they have a diploma.
New Hampshire's propsal would entail putting a whole stream of 16 year olds with even fewer skills into the classroom and would just ruin the community college experience for those who need it.
I left my high school after two years to go to the community college. I did it mostly because I was bored (I actually went to a good high school, but even they couldn't keep up with me), I was already ready to take Calculus by the end of my sophomore year, and I hated most of the teachers at my high school. This was because the teachers fell into two camps: the ones who ignored me because I was doing so much better than the students who needed help, and the ones who fawned over me because I was so damn smart. If I had a teacher at the high school who had been able to see through my bullshit in high school I probably would have been okay, but there wasn't a single instructor who ever gave me less than an A for doing what was, for me, mediocre work.
Going to the CC was the best thing I ever did. After the first quarter, you couldn't tell the difference between me and all of the rest of community college students (except that I looked a little bit younger) because I had grown up. Maturity wasn't an issue once I had a person--a fellow student, actually--call me on it once. I had to step up my game academically because my college professors saw that I could do a heck of a lot more than I was doing, and they didn't let me get away with anything either.
I don't think anyone should ever require students to go straight to college--most students simply aren't equipped. But for those who are, or could easily adjust, it can be a life saver.
And I think keeping kids with remedial skills out is easy enough: entrance exams. Where I was, high school kids aren't allowed to take non-college credit classes unless they pay for them like everyone else. (My CC experience was paid for by the state, and I'm assuming the same is happening in New Hampshire? If not, the state is discriminating based on test scores who gets a full 18 years of education.)
Besides that, dual enrollment disqualifies a person for the national merit scholars competition.
I would rather see improvement in educational quality at the high school level, of course. My experience, though, wasn't that dual enrollment was for students who were bumping the ceiling of high school. AP was for them. Dual enrollment was for kids who probably wouldn't go to college anyway, so they'd at least get an AA or a certificate of some kind OR it was for kids for whom high school was too structured--rather like an open campus high school so if a person needed to work or had a child or some such, they could come and go and still get fit classes into their schedule. Again, because otherwise they might drop out.
Open campus high school seems like an option for the latter, actually.
Anyway, I see a bit of the same thinking in the idea here, because the college bound kids (esp. bound for somewhere prestigious) and not included. Not because high school is valuable per se but a) because prestigious U will value a standard high school experience over dual enrollment and b) they have enough money to go to college and don't need the free transfer credits.
It's a two track system. The last two years of high school are not necessary for kids bound for vocational schools. Two years, an AA, a skill, and then a job.
At least, that's how I read this.
But, I do certainly agree that the solution is not to downgrade the community college experience.
I like the CEGEP system in Quebec. It gives students a warm up for college, or a useful termination point if they don't want to go to college, without any sort of stigma. Since even the most brilliant student must go to CEGEP to get into university. But without standardization, that kind of system isn't really possible. And for this New Hampshire proposal, as well. Colleges don't know what to do with alternative arrangements.
HA! My Prestigious U was a heck of a lot more class integrated than my high school. And even that wasn't very.
Everyone should start at 14 and cut out the wasteful monstrosity known as high school altogether. I've been saying that for years. Well, ever since I did it.
Look, I'm now in my 9th year of higher education. Getting started at 14 is a godsend to folks in the sciences who have a long slog ahead of them with undergrad+grad school+ post docs.
At the time, though, that wasn't the main motivation for doing it the way I did. We looked into high school, really we did. It was just so bad.
I think when you make high school voluntary, so that students want to be there, and when you set it up to facilitate "a la cart" education (so that you don't have to take every boring class), then maybe you'll fix high school. But most people aren't ready for high schools to function that way.
Also, I find your "social class" argument utterly and completely absurd. My community college was far and away the most diverse environment (in terms of a lot of things, "social class" among them) that I've encountered.
I get whining from students about exams having too much material, the final being comprehensive, and the expectation that they actually DO something outside of class.
This policy would only make the whining noise louder.
I'm sorry but the 18 year olds aren't prepared intellectually OR emotionally. How are 16 year olds expected to be ready and cope? The idea is seriously flawed.
Why then is this ok at a CC for everyone to teach kids?
Oh, I know! Let's make CC the last bastion of all those Ed.D. and Education Management diploma-holders who can water down the curriculum even more so everyone gets an A!
This time it's just in college!
Oh, silly me...that's already happening already too.
P.S. I went to a CC, a prestigious SLAC, and an Ivy; my "Prestigious" U students couldn't do comparable assignments to those from I did in CC when I assigned them. College is the 13th grade in many corners of the country already.
Also, not everybody *should* go to college . . .
Perhaps we should be more like our enlightend european brethren (and sistren): Test 'em all at age oh say 14 or so.
Those who should go to college get to go to four years of "college prep high school" then on to University. Those who shouldn't go to college get 2 years of trade school and enter the workforce at age 16.
My other observation is that there appear to be quite a few "pre-calc" classes in our high schools that deserve those scare quotes. You can, after all, call algebra 1 or algebra 2 "pre-calc" since you do need to take algebra 1 or 2 before calculus and you might really need a way to keep those kids "progressing" toward graduation.
I question, seriously question, the concept that "average" students are ready to go directly to college after 2 years in HS, but the "top" students are not. What, you want us to teach them 9th grade algebra in 11th grade because you know you will fail to teach it to them in their last two years of high school? We only accept kids into dual enrolled classes if they can pass our "prep" placement test into college level classes. I doubt if those "typical" 16 year olds can do that in NH. If they can, they can probably earn a GED today and go to college.
My word verification today is "taning", but the summer is over and my spelling is still better than that of a college freshman.
Our CC teaches dual-enroll classes at one local HS pretty much as a surrogate for a full IB program, and it is more popular than some of the AP classes. The kids like that they get 3 semester hours of credit in one semester *and* get two days off without a class to use to do their homework or something else.
I will repeat what others said about NH getting it backwards. There are fully integrated dual-enroll programs around (my cousin used to work with one of them) where you complete an AA and your HS degree at the same time. These are for the top students, who come out prepared much like kids in an IB program.
What would make the NH idea attractive to a CC is if the CC were to get all of the dollars that used to go to the HS. What they probably want to do is save money by paying CC tuition instead of the much bigger cost of HS.
But what a nightmare. FERPA changes, but that is small compared to other issues. Do we have to bus them to school? Fingerprint every instructor? Exclude persons from classes who are on parole for sex offenses? Take attendance? Chase down truants? Tolerate any behavior?
Not to mention deal with parents—no hiding behind non-disclosure rules now!
Being a non-American high school teacher*, I'm wondering if the proposal is a roundabout way of excluding a large number of problem students? The 'good kids' stay and learn what they are supposed to. The 'bad kids' get removed from the system and sent to college, where they can be excluded for misbehaviour without endless parental appeals, accusations of prejudice, lawyers, elected trustees grandstanding, etc.
if this happens, I predict that eventually CC will end up like high school, where the teachers are powerless to exclude kids that cause problems for all the others—behaviour that wouldn't be tolerated anywhere else. (And, for most of them, behaviour they don't engage in when there are actual consequences.)
*And thus knowing American high schools only second-hand.
I agree that, academically, for many the last two years of high school are a complete waste. I believe this wastefulness is a result of the trend towards forcing all students to fit a particular mold: the high school, then college, then professional career mold. The students in my classroom who do not fit this mold are evident from the first days of school. I teach ninth grade. A large portion of our high school populations are not equipped and/or not interested to pursue careers that would require higher education. Why are we forcing all of them to try to follow in that path?
What happened to vocational schools and technical schools? They weren't even an option when I was in high school. I know too many people who dropped out or are going to drop out because the standard high school curriculum has nothing to offer them.
Why can't there be many choices? There are, after all, many different choices once we leave the public education system, but we are failing to meet the needs of the public as a whole.
1. Students who are not academically inclined are not lost causes. Almost everyone has some kind of aptitude. We should be finding these aptitudes early and steering our youth in directions that will bolster their strengths. Send students to vocational and technical schools so that they can graduate from high school with a diploma, some skills, and the ability to support themselves and make educated life decisions.
2. Students are are academically inclined, but who would meet the criteria of "average" should be given some boosts in the first two grades. 9th and 10th. At the end of 10th there should be some indication if they are going to mature academically. If so, carry-on in our standard college-prep education. At the end of the four years, they can decide for themselves. If, at the end of 10th grade they are not showing any stronger aptitude, they can switch over to a more specific, vocational preparation and graduate with some job skills or go ahead to the community college to finish an education with a specific career in mind.
3. Students who are academically gifted can do what they are still doing today. Take their classes at their local public high school. Do their best. Take more and more advanced classes. Possibly take some classes as dually-enrolled students or take the AP/IB classes available at their high school.
I just don't understand why the system insists on trying to make every student go to a four-year university and leaving all the others who don't fit this mold languishing in the hallways with the bathroom pass. Those students know that this system isn't going to do anything for them. They aren't stupid!
You are treading on very dangerous ground.
Are you suggesting that individuals have different skillsets and preferences?
Remember the reason why we were driven to the "every student has the right to a 4 year degree" philosophy in the first place.
Read some Thernstrom and Murray (and Sowell for that matter) on this issue.
We will *never* go back to the bad old days of "multi tracking based on ability" in this country.
We would rather throw children away than admit they may have different abilities.
I do know that when I attended school in Michigan, we had three distinct programs in HS: a general degree, a college-prep degree, and a vo-tech degree -- differing only in the classes taken, not in the diploma you got at the end. All course options were available in the same building, although students interested in a particular technical area might have to attend a different HS at some point. Michigan now has eliminated the "general" option, but still has a vo-tech option and appears to offer some pretty "general" options within the putative college prep curriculum.
Based solely on the exit exams I have looked at for the different states that make them easily available, it's not clear to me that Florida has what I would call a "college prep" curriculum. For example, Michigan has a trig problem on its exam, but Florida doesn't even have a quadratic equation problem on its released tests. California seems somewhere in between those two. That's not to say that all Michigan grads can do trig, far from it, but that topic is represented on the exam.
I say "far from it" because there is still plenty of demand for "college prep" (i.e. low-level HS math) classes at Michigan colleges and universities. That problem runs deep in our school systems.
You are correct on two points.
1. My state administers its "exit exam" called the FCAT at the end of 3rd quarter sophomore year. The state is basically saying "we have taught you everything that we think you need to know by the end of 3rd quarter sophomore year. Of course, I'm convinced they administer the test at that time so that the schools have two more years to get all the students who don't demonstrate competency up to passing level. Of course, the retake is a simpler format than the original exam, anyway.
2. As a result of trying to force all students to fit into the mold (to which I referred in my original post), we high school teachers are stuck teaching to the middle group. The higher-performing students get easy A's. The lower-performing students are left behind.
Regarding the concern over maturity of 16-year-olds:
Our system no longer requires responsibility, accountability, or maturity from our students; therefore, they aren't learning those skills. Because teachers and curriculum is now being watered down to aim for the middle ground, many students are able to get by with very little effort.
If we appropriately challenge and educate our students at the high school level and before, they will be up to the challenge. They will mature. Veteran high school teachers (the good ones, at least) will tell you that the maturity level of the students is decreasing every year. The kids aren't changing. Our highest expectations of them are changing. If the most we expect is what we are looking for today, then we shouldn't be surprised that our 18-year-olds are immature and ill-prepared.