15 March 2010 11:26 AM

High School Students in College

by Dr. Rick

One of my greatest challenges when I was a high school English teacher was watching my seniors take their schooling less and less seriously as their final year progressed.  “Senioritis” was the term we gave to the condition of those kids who had already passed most of their required courses by the end of their junior year.  Now, as seniors, all they had to pass was their English course.  The rest, they said, was gravy.


Some took their education seriously and took upper level courses and continued to keep busy with their extracurriculars.  But many were not so motivated.  Even the bright ones were more than happy to coast for a while, unchallenged and left alone.


Wouldn’t it be great, I used to dream, if these kids could graduate ahead of time, free to take college-level courses at the nearby community colleges, to start accumulating credits, to keep their academic edge, to get an early taste of college, to be exposed to challenging and interesting material, to discover new interests, and to acquire mentors and guides?


Seems like that day is near.


Selected high schools in eight states – and more eventually I hope – will begin allowing sophomores to get their diploma early so they can start their college careers.  They must first pass a battery of tests in English, math, science, and history.  Then, off they go!


Here are some thoughts.

  1. An early detection system.  Students who pass the qualifying tests will have shown that they can master the academic requirements of post-secondary education.  This will help the colleges, too – they’ll need to offer non-credit remedial classes to fewer students.  (The number of high school graduates who enter college every year only to learn they need to take those remedial courses is unconscionable.)  Students who don’t pass the qualifying tests will get a valuable “head’s up” that they’re not on the right path.  They can have a “do over” and take the test at the end of their junior year, giving them another year to clean up their act.

  2. A way to keep kids engaged.  Face it, many high school seniors are ready and able to do the work of higher education.  They’re ready to learn about new academic disciplines, careers, technologies, and the workplace.  Instead, they’re still in high school, putting in “seat time” rather than “learning time.”  It’s good to honor their curiosity, their need to “move on,” and their desire to take that next step.

  3. A creative approach.  High schools are still pretty much organized around a system that’s well over 100 years old.  (Yes, there are excellent and noble exceptions, but they’re not, alas, the rule.)  So, maybe it’s time to add a new choice to the mix available to students.  Good for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for providing the $1.5 million planning grant, good for the National Center on Education and the Economy for organizing it,  and good for Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont for trying out something new and exciting.

  4. A modern, contemporary approach.  The world of higher education is changing rapidly, with increasing numbers of students – adults with busy lives – taking their coursework in non-traditional ways.  For example, courses taken and degrees granted online are increasing by great numbers annually.  College students report that these courses allow for flexibility and the opportunity to advance their learning for many who, in the old arrangements, would have been left out.  Why not try new arrangements for capable, eligible, and ready high schoolers?

  5. Not for everyone.  Many, maybe even most, high school students will not opt for this new opportunity.  That’s fine.  High school can be a meaningful and important period in a kid’s life.  It’s a time for growth – academic, social, intellectual, emotional, and, for some, spiritual.  For those kids who are involved in upper-level courses, extracurricular activities, and other valuable and stimulating experiences, high school remains the place to be.  Some kids aren’t ready socially or emotionally.  But for those students who are unstimulated, unchallenged, and unhappy, it’s fortunate to have another option.  More choices are better.  That’s all I’m saying.

I’m all for anything that will spur students to stretch themselves, to continue learning, to be exposed to new and interesting ideas and people, to gain some knowledge about themselves and their strengths, and to face their futures with hopefulness and a sense of direction.  I’ve seen too many rudderless kids become rudderless adults, and the world isn’t making things any easier for them.




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