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“Class dismissed” – Should the high school senior year be scrapped?

March 2, 2010

We recently weighed in on the proposal offered by Sen. Ken Winters, a Murray Republican, that would allow Kentucky students to graduate a year early from high school.

Kentucky state Sen. Ken Winters, Murray Republican (LRC photo)

Our Feb. 22 editorial focused not as much on saying whether the proposal was a bad idea or a good one, but rather that implementing such an option is a rethinking of what K-12 education means. Elementary and secondary education has primarily focused around the completion of 13 years of school, not a set number of course credits, and providing a fast-track degree would be a shift in that mentality.

From the editorial –

Senate Bill 67 is more than just the fast-tracking measure it appears to be on its face. It’s a rethinking of what students should accomplish before they are granted a high school diploma and whether an educational experience amounts to more than just completing coursework.

Senate Bill 67 has already cleared the Senate and is now up for debate in the House. As that debate progresses, lawmakers need to keep in mind not just what a streamlined high school education might provide a student, but also what it might strip away.

But in a recent piece in the New York Times Magazine‘s online edition, contributor Walter Kirn opines that high school’s senior year has become “less a climactic academic experience than an occasion for oafish goofing off, chronic truancy, random bullying, sloppy dancing in rented formalwear and interludes of moody, wan philosophizing (often at sunrise while still half-drunk and staring off at a misty river or the high-school parking lot) about the looming bummer of adulthood.”

That’s a pretty stiff indictment of the final year of secondary education. Kirn explains that he skipped his senior year in high school to jump to college early, and didn’t miss out on much by his estimation. Kirn notes that the idea of providing this fast track is gaining ground and attention in different forms, including support in Kentucky.

From Kirn’s article

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has, too, it seems. In the interest of speeding students on their way to productive, satisfying careers, the foundation intends to give a $1.5 million grant to a project organized by the nonprofit National Center on Education and the Economy. The goal is to help certain students leapfrog the keg party and go directly from 10th grade to community colleges after passing a battery of tests. The goal is not to save money but precious time, and the program is modeled on systems now in place in Denmark, Finland, France and Singapore — countries whose young folk, in many cases, speak English more grammatically than a lot of American high-school seniors do. One of the fledgling program’s backers, Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s commissioner of education, calls the program’s approach “move on when ready.”

It’s an interesting proposition, and for some students might be the right path. Kirn and others view the senior year as a holding pattern waiting to move on to better things. Others might see it as a chance to get a jump start on college credits through AP and dual-credit courses. For those on the borderline, senior year can offer that chance to find remediation on core skills before making the leap to higher education.

But the debate is certainly a complex one. This is a time when too many student continue to drop out before graduation, and too many graduate not prepared for either the workforce or the university. School systems shouldn’t neglect those who are underperforming while trying to give the top students another route to head to the next level sooner.

Any thoughts?

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