There is a new plan based on the educational systems of Denmark, England, Finland and Singapore—for public schools to offer 10th graders an early diploma if they bass a battery of tests and enroll immediately at a community college. While I applaud the effort to retain many of the students currently at college-age who are remediated for poor math and English skills, I have concerns about this plan for three reasons along with strategies which can help:
1) In America, many high school freshmen aren’t ready for college or high school academically, emotionally and socially. I am sure that the countries on which this model is based have far more rigor in the early grades levels which gradually prepares students for success in their studies, their careers and in their lives.
Solution: More rigor for ninth graders for success throughout high school.
If ninth graders are encouraged to read at home at night, study at least two to three hours a night and really learn to love challenge, they can expand their world through work, volunteer activities and school involvement. These “soft skills” are key to building lifelong habits of success and a quality mindset which creates quality in work, society and one’s personal decisions. Reinforcing a culture of learning with low-income, first-generation families needs to be a parallel strategy.
2) Many at-risk students start high school with no sense of who they are, what they like or dislike, or how high school and college can benefit them later. They start out in an uncommitted, undetermined frame of mind. So, even if they test well, they often don’t have the maturity, critical thinking or problem-solving abilities to make good decisions and manage themselves effectively. Putting them into a more complex environment when they haven’t mastered the high school environment, allows students to skip a step and can set them up for emotional and social setbacks.
Solution: More clear expectations and preparation for eighth graders BEFORE they get to high school.
If eighth graders are given the chance to explore the benefits of high school, learn what they might do once they get there, take an inventory of their weaknesses so they can find ways through extra work, tutors and other resources to get help, they will anticipate and be prepared for the new world they will enter. Without these skills of looking ahead, preparing adequately and learning how to advocate for what one needs, students are in a “middle school” mindset when they are asked to do high school level work.
3) America goes toe-to-toe with foreign counterparts until middle school. Research shows that fewer than 2 in 10 of the nation’s eighth graders are on track to be academically prepared for college and high school may be too late to bring them up to speed.
What happens in middle school that causes our nation’s test scores to drop?
What can be done to bring America’s middle school students up to speed with their counterparts in Finland, Denmark, England and Singapore?
Solution: Success and Transition Programs for 5/6th graders.
We’ve been working with districts who emphasize both an emotional intelligence program and a transition success program for their fifth graders. Not only have the schools had fewer referrals to the principal’s office, parents, teachers and counselors report that students are observing their behaviors, asking themselves about their options, connecting more with other students, and solving their own problems more effectively. And an unexpected outcome: these schools had a boost in their state test scores. All of learning is based on emotion. When students understand their emotions, they can calm down, focus, learn and have the motivation to study on their own.
I’m all for trying the early college program if we can implement these three steps to better prepare students for college, career and personal success when they are so immature and emotionally unready for life’s adult decisions. Employers complain frequently that today’s graduates often lack the communication, thinking skills and maturity to contribute in real ways in their first few years out of college. Let’s be realistic about the preparation which low-income students and all students need and let’s give them the perspective, the tools, the resources and the experience to excel in today’s complex global world where they will be working toe-to-toe with their colleagues in Denmark, England, Finland, and Singapore once they do graduate from college.
By SAM DILLON
Dozens of public high schools in eight states will introduce a program next year allowing 10th graders who pass a battery of tests to get a diploma two years early and immediately enroll in community college.
Students who pass but aspire to attend a selective college may continue with college preparatory courses in their junior and senior years, organizers of the new effort said. Students who fail the 10th-grade tests, known as board exams, can try again at the end of their 11th and 12th grades. The tests would cover not only English and math but also subjects like science and history.
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