October 30, 2009

High Schools need an Associate's Diploma

Obama's SecEd, Arne Duncan, repeated what he said last semester. This time it made the headlines. I hope he keeps repeating it. I've taught in four districts in three states. "Proficiency" can be as low as 48% for graduating seniors. The whole thing is a joke, the kids know it, and the teachers, principals and district administrators are absolutely lying* about it. (*In the SecEd's own words, at least.)

States need a second tier track to graduation but it doesn't have to be vocational. Employers are looking for three things, from a high school grad. Did you keep a schedule, follow instructions, and complete tasks? Less than half of our high school grads today go on to college. More should go, but less should feel forced to pretend they are going, especially since we're only pretending they're capable.

An "Associate's Diploma" for two years worth of credits would provide what employers want and minimize dropouts while allowing the tougher standards for "Standard Diplomas" to finally grow serious academic teeth. The two year program could be flexible on credits allowed, because any student who legitimately earns 12-14 credits has learned enough behavior wise to get paid better than a dropout. The four year program could become more popular in the meantime because smart kids want worthy challenges, in the absence of which they too often decline.

With a two year option, early graduates could go on to selected vocational colleges or return to finish a standard diploma, up to age 21. Early dropouts could come back with much better chances of passing a shorter curriculum. Eventually, district budgets might shrink enough to offer two year graduates free vouchers for technical colleges. Finally, comprehensive and practical courses in real life Mathematics and Reading/Research skills could be offered to some two year students. At that point, we could begin the return to a more traditional, less watered down version of "college prep curriculum". Abstract Mathematics and higher Literature have remained the true arbiters of college acceptance and readiness anyway.

We need to continue the liberal program of maximizing opportunity for all, but also invest in the future by lifting up those who achieve more. Somebody tell Duncan and Obama to give me a call if they want to hear more about this new idea - the Two Year Associate's Diploma.


Rick Wadholm Jr. said...

The DoE in Minnesota actually demands that every student have the opportunity to complete approximately one year (not sure of how many credits or if its a bit more than one year) of undergrad work while still in High School. This way many of our students graduate with most of an Associate's Diploma already completed. So Texas doesn't offer this?

Bill Heroman said...

Hey, Rick. I think you mean they earn credits towards an Associate's Degree. An "Associate's Diploma" as I'm suggesting it would be a truncated secondary (not postsecondary) curriculum.

Rick Wadholm Jr. said...

Sorry...my bad. So you are proposing students not finish the four years of high school, but instead do only a few years (or something like that???)?

Bill Heroman said...

I'm proposing the option for 16 year olds to skip the last two years of high school with a secondary degree, which would qualify them for a range of two year training institutions, but not the traditional "higher education" degree programs.

Two year H.S. graduates could enroll in Trade Schools or Technical Colleges if they behaved well and performed up to those requirements. Many would probably enter the job force right away, as they do now, but without the stigma or shame of being 'dropouts'.

Seriously, we don't all need Algebra II and Shakespeare. Just those of us who are aiming at college. In my paradigm, nobody has to label or sort kids in a restrictive way. All the options remain open, but kids who self-identify with vocational interests can get started earler, instead of going through the motions while trying to stay out of trouble.

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