Sunday, March 05, 2006

Reinvigorating Secondary Education

At our recent Board retreat, we talked about what we wanted EO Smith to become. The second article in this Orlando, FL link called, High Schools Could Focus On Credits - So long freshmen, hello first-year students under DOE-backed plan by Julia Crouse (The Ledger) examines some excellent ideas being enacted - that's right ENACTED (not just being paid lip-service) - that are excatly the kinds of changes we need in Connecticut.

Here's some of the changes;

ORLANDO -- Florida may do away with high school freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.

In their place would be first-, second-, third- and fourth-year students if a new proposal for changing high school requirements passes through the Florida Legislature this spring.

The new format would eliminate promotion or retention. Students would be classified based on the number of credits earned, similar to the college system.

Twenty-four credits are still needed for a diploma, and the same number of classes are required.

But students will add a fourth year of math and concentrate half of their electives in a single subject area, or major.

Another shift is how schools classify students.

Students would be grouped based on how many credits they've earned, not the number of years in school -- something that's already being done in Polk, Tonjes said.

Students who haven't met diploma requirements by their fourth year will be able to remain in 12th grade until proficiency requirements for a diploma are met.

That's the best thing about the proposals, McKinzie said.

People are starting to understand that high school takes some students longer than four years, she said.

"It's not always a simple four year progression," she said.

Whether the changes will work depends on how DOE sets it up, she said.

They won't work if DOE officials rush into the decision without giving districts time to flesh out their programs for majors or add additional math courses, she said.

The legislation includes a new program called Academic All-Stars, a distinction of subject area expertise through a star system.

For example, a student who earns good grades in Spanish from eighth grade through 12th grade would get a fivestar distinction on his diploma. A student who did really well in English in 10th, 11th and 12th grade would have three stars.

Winn said the goal is not to stigmatize students who barely scrape by. Instead, it will make good grades a little more special for students.

We've discussed similar ideas by attempting to become an experimental high school in terms of curriculum and of creating a credentialed diploma that signified that the graduate had taken a rigorous courseload and be given the benefit of the doubt by a higher education institution that remedial courses were unnecessary.

But Florida's retro-visionary approach has a great deal of good stuff going for it. Students learn at their own pace and presumably test for mastery when they've mastered the subject instead of when an arbitrary class number is reached. Imagine that, the test being administered actually tests a student who is educationally prepared to be tested on something that he or she can prove they know. Godfrey Daniels! - that would produce a meaningful metric for the student, the school, the parent, the institute of higher education! - E-GADS it makes too much sense!

This is no small thing. Today in Connecticut teachers are forced to pressure all students to conform to set testing requirements, ready or not. This messes up students and it totallly screws up the educational process. Instead of teaching students who are educationally making similar progress, teachers try to force accelerated learning on learners who are incapable of acceleration and higher acheiving students dumb themselves down to meet the vanilla expectations (see here). It's all sugar-coated in phoney curriculum vocabularies and lots of finger-pointing that somebody else is to blame for Johnny not being able to do this or that.

And by eliminating class distinctions, much of the artificial pretense and pressure to conform to preconceived notions of high school self is eliminated. Students can take courses that they're comfortable with and in combinations that make sense for them (and not necessarily the State).

It also eliminates much of the sports silliness. Schools can run a Varsity and JV team for any given sport and offer a rec level for that sport that allows older students lacking in skills but with an abundance of enthusiasm to enjoy themselves.

Instead of visiting totalitarian regimes for ideas on education, the State DOE should be emulating Florida or, as Jonathan Winters once called it, "God's Waiting Room".

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