Proposing a New High School Way

High school reimagined (and we mean truly reimagined) was the title of the winning entry in the Fordham Institute’s annual policy Wonkathon (asking this time whether graduation requirements need to change). Here is that powerful article (with a nod to Indiana) from two leaders of K12 Inc, an online learning provider:

So what is the purpose of high school in America? We think most agree that it is to train our students up to be responsible and productive citizens. But how exactly do we measure that? Research over the years has shown the numerous benefits of high school completion, how it improves the likelihood of higher wages and decreases the likelihood of being arrested for a crime, for example. This type of research led to a focus on graduation as the ultimate measurement. It’s as though we believed that something magical happened by simply pushing all students to get across the graduation stage in four years.

In turn, while the national graduation rate has soared to record highs from 2005 to 2015, the value of a high school diploma, as measured by median annual earnings, has taken a significant dip over that same time period. The value of the diploma has decreased, even as more students have crossed the stage. Would we say that 84.1 percent of our students, all those who graduated in 2016, are leaving high school prepared for successful lives? Ask ten people and we bet you won’t get a single “yes.” Therein lies the problem we are faced with today.

Where did we go wrong and how do we fix it? First, it’s important to change how we measure success. If we want high schools to ultimately turn out responsible and productive citizens and we agree that not every graduate in America today fits that criteria, then let’s not use graduation rate as our ultimate measure of success. Let’s instead measure the outcomes we wish to see after high school; things like employment rates, median annual wages, job satisfaction, and postsecondary educational program enrollment and completion rates. Are these metrics as easy to calculate and report out for every school and district as the four-year cohort graduation rate? No. Should that prevent us from doing it? No (but it often does).

With our focus firmly planted on student outcomes after high school, we can now begin to reimagine the experience itself. The solution – personalized learning, the educational buzz word that has every school across the nation attempting to better serve each student’s unique needs and goals. All the while the system in which these schools operate has continued its one-size-fits-all model. The right hand is saying, “Every child is unique, has different strengths and weakness and dreams, and should have ownership and agency over his/her learning,” yet the left hand is simultaneously shouting, “But don’t forget you need to ensure he/she masters every single rigorous standard, passes every standardized test, and graduates college-and-career ready in four years.” It’s time we take the hands and align the left with the right (and no, that isn’t a political joke).

To build a personalized learning model that effectively graduates students prepared to successfully contribute to society, let’s do three things:

  • Embrace cross-curricular competency-based learning
  • Personalize graduation paths
  • Realign learning across the preschool to higher education/career continuum

Cross-curricular competency-based learning

Across the country at this very minute, there are thousands of students sitting in classes they could have aced on the very first day of school. An even larger population of students are being dragged along to more advanced concepts before they are ready simply because the teacher needs to cover all of the course objects in the allotted amount of days for the semester.

Our current system based entirely on the accrual of seat time and credits in individual subject areas is incredibly outdated. Instead, our high school “graduation plan” should be a cross-curricular checklist of knowledge and skills that students should master in order to graduate. Education Reimagined is partnering with schools nationwide to make learner-centered education like this a reality. The beauty of this model is that it not only allows a student to advance at his/her own pace, but it opens up a wide range of pathways by which a student can demonstrate mastery, which leads us to our next recommendation.

Personalized graduation paths

It’s time we truly acknowledge that every student is unique and in turn provide fully personalized graduation paths. Career and technical education (CTE) and college preparation programs should be seen as equals, preparing students for the next step they choose to take. For example, if the graduation checklist requires students to be able to write a research paper, let’s give them an option to fulfill that in any course whether that is advanced English Literature or a welding course.

A 2016 CTE Study from the Fordham Institute shows many benefits to a quality CTE program, including an increased likelihood that the student will graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, and be employed with a higher wage after graduation. Every student should be given control to create a path toward graduation that uses his/her interests and future plans as a foundation upon which to add relevant coursework, internships, and life skills training. Indiana seems to be leading the way in this area with recently-approved Graduation Pathways.

Realignment across the learning continuum

Embracing the above two recommendations means a shift in American high schools as we know them. Knowing that, it is important that our last recommendation be to reimagine learning across the entire preschool to higher education/career continuum. Instead of moving students in primary grades with age cohorts, let’s focus on competency-based mastery. Give students who need extra time the time that they need to gain understanding and allow those who are ready to move on the chance to advance.

Instead of labeling a student as a “failure” for not having graduated from high school in four years, set the expectation that students may master all of the competencies required in anywhere from three to seven years. Connect that high school graduation checklist with expectations of colleges, universities, career training programs, and jobs in order to ensure that when students do graduate they are truly prepared to embrace the next step, whatever that is for them.

So with three simple recommendations we have successfully turned the entire high school system on its head.

An Overhaul of High School Policies

What do we do to help our K-12 education system function at a higher level? There is no shortage of suggestions or recommendations.

Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, is one of the more authoritative voices in this area. An excerpt from a recent column focuses on turning the system upside down. Currently, he writes:

“We have a system whereby millions of teenagers sleepwalk through so-called college-prep classes, graduate (sometimes without earning it), get pushed into college (often into remedial courses), and quickly drop out. It’s “bachelor’s degree or bust,” and for the majority of kids, the result is bust.

So what might work better? Twelve years ago, the Tough Choices or Tough Times report made an intriguing set of recommendations that would make the American system more like those in Europe. It’s time to dust it off again. Here’s my spin on them.

  1. In ninth or tenth grade, all students should sit for a set of gateway exams. Think of them as high school “entrance exams” rather than “exit exams.” They would assess pupils on reading, writing, math, science, history, and civics – the essential content and skills that all students should be expected to know to be engaged and educated citizens. There would also be a component assessing students’ career interests and aptitudes as best as these can be gauged for fifteen-year-olds.
  2. Students who pass the exams would then choose among several programs for the remainder of their high school years – programs that all could take place under the same roof. Some would be traditional “college-prep,” with lots of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or dual-enrollment courses. Others would be high quality career and technical education offerings designed to lead directly into degree or certificate programs at a technical college. All of the programs could set entrance requirements that ensure that students are ready to succeed in them. And their selectivity would make them prestigious and appealing to a wide range of students. At the end of high school, students would graduate with special designations on their diplomas indicating that they are ready for postsecondary education or training without the need for remediation.
  3. Students who don’t pass the exams would enter developmental programs specifically designed to help them catch up and pass the tests on their second or third (or fourth or fifth) tries. Those that catch up quickly can join their peers in the college-prep or CTE programs.

It’s a lot to tackle. It’s harder than just chastising teachers and principals who graduate kids who can’t read or do math. But in my view, its time has come. Perhaps one of the men or women running for governor this year would like to give it a try.

graduates

IMPACT Awards Celebrate Internship Success

Internship excellence, and the interns, employers and career development professionals that make it possible, were honored today by Indiana INTERNnet during the 12th annual IMPACT Awards Luncheon. Indiana INTERNnet is the statewide resource for internship opportunities managed by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, and has helped connect students and employers across the state since 2001.

Appropriately supporting the luncheon’s theme of “Wild about Workforce Development,” Chris Heeter, founder of The Wild Institute, delivered the keynote address, “Guiding the Team to Success.” She combines business expertise with stories from her sled dog team and experience as a whitewater trip guide.

“Experiential learning is a key piece of Indiana’s workforce development plans, and the nominees we celebrated this year are a promising indication of Indiana’s future,” offers Indiana INTERNnet Executive Director Janet Boston. “Internships are making a difference in our young professionals’ skill levels, and often, these opportunities are leading to full-time jobs either with the intern’s employer or another Hoosier company. Everyone benefits from meaningful internships.”

Winners:

  • College Intern of the Year: Jerica Mitchell (Indiana Minority Health Coalition, Inc.; Indiana State University)
  • High School Intern of the Year: Camisa Vines (South Bend Code School; John Adams High School)
  • Non-Traditional Intern of the Year: Miranda Goodwin (Wabash Valley Community Foundation)
  • Career Development Professional of the Year: Nathan Milner (Indiana Wesleyan University)
  • Employer of the Year (For-profit): Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance (Indianapolis)
  • Employer of the Year (Non-profit): Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem (South Bend)

IMPACT Awards

The full press release, with a list of all nominees and additional information about the winners can be found here.

In addition, the second annual School Counseling-Business Partnership of the Year award was presented to Perry Central Jr./Sr. High School and Jasper Engines and Transmissions. The recognition, developed by the Indiana Chamber Foundation to highlight innovative approaches to college and career readiness, comes during National School Counseling Week. The Indiana Chamber Foundation and the Department of Workforce Development jointly presented the award.

The luncheon was sponsored by Ivy Tech Community College and held at the Ivy Tech Community College Culinary and Conference Center in Indianapolis. Gerry Dick of Inside INdiana Business was the event emcee.

For more information about the Indiana INTERNnet program, visit www.IndianaINTERN.net or call the hotline at 317-264-6852.

Nominations Open for School-Business Partnership Award

The Indiana Chamber Foundation is accepting nominations for its second annual School Counseling-Business Partnership of the Year award, highlighting the collaborative efforts between employers and educators to better prepare students for college and careers.

The award, presented in partnership with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, is open to all Indiana high schools and employers (must be located in Indiana). Nomination letters must include the name of the high school and employer and describe how the partnership has led to better preparation of students for college and career success.

In addition, a $1,000 scholarship will be given to a high school senior who has shown exceptional progress in college and career readiness because of the school counseling-business partnership.

The 2017 inaugural award was presented to Hobart High School and St. Mary’s Medical Center. Read more about that partnership here. The winning partnership will be announced at the 12th annual Indiana INTERNnet IMPACT Awards luncheon on February 7.

Nominations should be submitted to Shelley Huffman at [email protected] by Friday, January 12.

partnership

Lessons Outside the Classroom Still Apply

I read a lot — too much for work and not enough for pleasure, but that’s another story. In fact, at least some of the “work” reading proves quite interesting, including this Ragan post on high school lessons that hold true in the workplace.

Here’s the intro, followed by the seven lessons. Click the link at the bottom of this post for the full story.

High schools get a lot of criticism for the way graduates are prepared (or not) for the rigors of the real world. Nowhere does that lack of preparation get highlighted more than in the workplace. But you’d be surprised how much happens in your average high school that’s related to the working world.

High school can teach us plenty of lessons about how to win friends and influence people professionally. Here are seven shining examples that prove what goes on in high school hallways isn’t that different from what’s happening around the water cooler.

  • Fake it until you make it
  • Tardiness isn’t tolerated
  • Don’t be a mean girl
  • Prank at your own risk
  • Where you sit matters
  • Jump in and have some fun
  • Focus on what you love

Intrigued? Check out the full explanations.