Tuesday, May 01, 2012

High school, only shorter

A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a feature ("High school, only shorter") on the handful of states that now give scholarships to students who complete high school early. If it takes you three years instead of four, the state is saving cash. So why not split that bounty, and give a small scholarship to be used to start college? Indiana, Minnesota, Utah, South Dakota and Idaho all have programs that create an incentive for kids to start college early.

I love this idea, and it may be working. According to stats from the WSJ article, some 2.9% of students who were sophomores in 2002 graduated from high school in three years or less, vs. 1.5% in the 1990s. The availability of online classes is helping this (since that's how many students earn the additional credits -- or through summer school).

The "pros" are obvious: if you've finished high school, why stick around? It's time to move on to more challenging work, or to start your working life earlier. What was most fascinating to me, though, were the "cons" the journal listed, which show how entrenched the idea is that high school is just part of American life. What about prom? What about senior class trips? Perhaps students will be "socially or emotionally unprepared for college" and, of course, graduating early "requires more work."

I get the hesitation. We live in an increasingly fractured society. Experiences like prom or homecoming and the supposed glory of senior year are some of the few universals we still have. From the vantage point of dull jobs, bills, and the responsibilities of raising families, people like to look back and view ages 17-18 as the best years of their lives. But prom is a relatively recent tradition. And as Nicholas Myers of Indiana, now enrolled in Ball State, told the WSJ, "Nowadays we have CEOS in their 20s... If I get out a year early, that's a year extra of pay... That's a whole year of my time that I can do whatever I want -- make some money, invest some money or just relax." Exactly. For all the worry about "hurried" childhoods, I see no reason to prolong it if the child is ready to grow up.

But I'm curious what other people think. Do you have fond memories of your senior year of high school? Do you think your children will?


Anonymous said...

Hi Laura. I think this is an interesting topic. The idea of the scholarship for those who wrap up early seems great to me. And I think for anyone who is beyond ready to move on, or is unhappy in school and can make it happen, Great!

But I completely understand at least the questions/hesitations. Senior year is a special time, and many friendships are savored and cemented during that time, in addition to learning opportunities. There is something wonderful about those bonds that occur, that people carry with them for the rest of their lives. Being practical, you have to also recognize that personal connections are frequently a key part of business, so skipping times where deep connections are made can also affect business outcomes (I bring this up to counter the "extra year of salary" argument, not because I really think it is the reason to do it). Additionally, there are often a lot of leadership opportunities that open up in senior year, both formal and informal. These can be vital experiences, not replicated on computer courses (believe me, my kids have done EPGY programs--while these filled a need, they do not compare at all!).

I wasn't at the center of the social whirlwind in my large public school, but I wouldn't consider having skipped senior year. I've had a wonderful life, so it would be sad and wrong to say it was "the absolute best times of my life", but they sure were wonderful times. I would never encourage my children to skip senior year (although they did skip an elementary year), unless something bad was happening (bullying, etc).

Nonetheless, for those that choose it for whatever reason, sharing in the savings via scholarships is a wonderful idea.

IndianaAnna said...

I grew up in Minnesota and went to college a year early. I earned dual credit that year, towards finishing high school and towards my college degree. My high school had to pay the tuition and textbook costs. I had to pay for room and board. I went to a small private college that was only 45 minutes from home, so I was close enough to return home fairly often. I was 100% socially ready to get out of my small-town high school and move on to better things. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made!

Sam said...

I'm very glad to see this development, although the reasons for it are somewhat troubling. I attended the early entrance program at tiny Shimer College (a couple of decades ago now), and seldom miss the opportunity to recommend this course to others. At the time it was virtually the only path available for staying on an academic track while escaping the sclerotic bureaucracy and soul-crushing hell of high school. The greater flexibility available to (some) students today is very heartening.

Recently I've had occasion to do some research into the history of acceleration into college, and it's really quite fascinating how the same forces have aligned decade after decade to keep these options out of reach for the vast majority who could have benefited from them. The first pilots of early entrance programs were done in the 1930s (i.e. not very long after the "four years of high school" requirement had become entrenched); their outcomes were studied carefully and it was found that the common concerns about stunted social life &c. were entirely unjustified, that students throughout the top quartile (at least) could benefit from acceleration, and that resistance from parents & others quickly evaporated once they'd had some direct experience. But due to institutional resistance, particularly hostility from high school administrators, the programs were quickly mothballed. This pattern -- pilot programs, encouraging results, institutional hostility, quiet death -- repeated itself on a much larger scale in the 1940s, and again in the 1950s. It was only in the 1970s that "gifted education" provided a rhetorical shelter that could allow these programs to flourish at schools other than Shimer and Simon's Rock (which were too small and obscure to attract any significant hostility).

So I'm glad that the high school administrators of today are finally seeing the light and actually encouraging students to get out as fast as they can, but there are a couple of things that bug me:

- This sort of acceleration-by-compression may just lead to cramming the same unchallenging busywork that has long typified American secondary education into a shorter timespan. Worse, if early graduation is students' only viable route out of high school hell, this fact may encourage them to take (even) less challenging courses so they can finish sooner. Acceleration by omission (early entrance) or enrichment (AP courses or dual enrollment) seem like much healthier options -- but the vogue for early graduation may reduce the already limited oxygen available for these.

- Having early graduation associated with the current vogue for cutting corners in education can't be a good thing for the future. When the inevitable reaction finally comes, it's going to be far too easy for administrators and politicians to eliminate early graduation as just another relic of that embarrassing period when we couldn't be bothered to provide the funds needed for a decent education.

Anonymous said...

I would have loved to have this option in high school. I did the AP classes (took every one that was offered, which was a sum total of 3).

Did I have fun my senior year? Sure. But not because of anything the school offered--prom was a mess, I don't recall any class "trips", I was too young to go on a kids-only spring break (I graduated at 17), etc. I would have been thrilled to test out of the more boring classes and get right to college, where I actually felt challenged. Also in college, I managed to fall in with a crowd of similar folks--most or all probably also gifted, some others who skipped one or more grades, etc. It wasn't until there that I finally felt "normal" (heck, compared to some folks I was at most an average learner!)

I'm glad to hear some states are paying attention to the varied needs of the kids. Hopefully administrators and counselors are guiding the right kids into the early graduation programs and not trying to use it to broadly just to cut costs.

'Nother Barb said...

I could have graduated after my junior year, except I was lacking the 4th year of English and PE. There were ways around that, and I knew students who did graduate after junior year or mid-senior year. Instead, I spent my senior year taking the classes I never had time for: Art 101, orchestra (though I'd been in band), music theory, Modern European History, and was able to take 5th year French, in addition to the required English and PE. I wanted to take Latin, but that year it was offered at our other campus, and you needed a free period before and after for transit -- and I was just too busy! I was not a high-achieving student, and didn't go to prom, but I sure had fun in school. Went on to get two bachelor's (simultaneously) and a master's, and all along the way I made sure to take some fun classes.

Would this start to filter down to the middle-school and grade-school level, and maybe acceleration at those levels would be more acceptable to the schools? Although, I wouldn't trust my in-debt and corrupt state to follow through on the scholarship promise.

Anonymous said...

(1st poster again, here).

By the way, districts do need to be careful about the amount of scholarship money they provide to each student if the intention is to save money (or at least not incur EXTRA costs).

In our district, we spend approximately $12,500 per pupil each year. However, the vast majority of that is not variable at the individual level. If the purpose is to remain at least cost neutral, I would be concerned if our district offered more than $2,000. If a student leaves for their last year, we'll still be paying the same building/utilities costs, the same teacher salaries, the same huge pension contributions, healthcare, etc. This would have to occur on a mass scale for it to result in meaningful reduction in staff, which is where most of our dollars go. And we'd still be heating the building the same amount, hiring the same number of school buses to transport students, etc.

But if the purpose is more of an "atta, boy!" than a cost savings incentive, I suppose it could be more substantial.

Also, reading the other posts, I'm saddened to see how that there were so many unhappy high school students, and I certainly think that this is a great option for anyone who is truly unhappy in school.

What I see at our local high school is that the classwork is actually only half the work for the students--today's students seem so involved in incredible learning experiences outside of school hours (whether they are team things such as plays, sports, academic teams, etc, or mentorships/internships, or research, or major-league community service positions, or creating entrepreneurial ventures, etc). My kiddos are PG & HG, but I do not think they will be unchallenged when they get to high school, in part because high school today seems so much bigger than just classes. But maybe I'll discover that's wrong. And we are fortunate to have 15 AP classes offered--clearly reading Laura's post about the alarming % of schools that don't even offer Algebra 2 much less Calculus, that's not necessarily the norm. So it is easy to imagine instances where acceleration would be a godsend.

Anonymous said...

I thought high school was pretty much a joke. I got straight A's without studying. I had some friends, but not soulmates. I jumped at the opportunity to do the post-secondary enrollment option, attending college full-time while getting both high school and college credits. I loved it. I did actually go to prom, though...mostly because one of my favorite bands was playing, not so much because I wanted to spend much time with the people in my graduating class.

The Smacca said...

I think that, like so many other things, whether a person sees this as a great idea depends on individual circumstances. A socially content gifted student at a large, high-performing high school in a college town, with access to diverse courses and post-secondary enrollment options through the local university might look at this and think, "Why? I can stay here, have my friends and my senior year activities and academic challenge at the same time!"

But then a student who doesn't jive as well socially with his/her classmates, or a student who lives in a tiny rural community with no college access, or an inner-city school at which post-secondary options are not encouraged and most classes focus on "the basics" (read: remediation), or a student who for whatever reason has been overlooked in the "let's help this kid find other options" process... those students would probably jump at this.

It speaks to the need for multiple options. This is a great option for someone who's truly ready, in every way, to leave the high school scene behind. Some students, however, are happy as high school students (shocking, I know), and for those students, PSEO should remain a viable option.

From ethiopia said...
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Anonymous said...

I pulled my son out of public school and am homeschooling him through the local community college. Senior year in high school? A 45-minute bus ride to an overcrowded, outdated, dilapidated building where the first class starts at 7 am and the first lunch at 8:15 am (the school needs four lunch periods because the school is so overcrowded). A school where all the money and time goes to getting the remedial and disinterested students to meet minimum No Child Left Untested standards, and the football "stars" to realize their dream of professional sports.

High schools don't seem designed to meet the needs of the students.

lgm said...

Graduating early here means graduating at 16 - not old enough for an unrestricted driver's license in my state.

What I'd like to see instead is a county magnet AP/IB opportunity for accelerated students following an accelerated path beginning in Kindy (as in Algebra when ready in 5th grade). If we can bus sped and vo-tech, we can bus accel students and give them the education they deserve. But, given Jay Matthews' recent column on TJ's new admissions policy, our politicians aren't likely to allow it to happen. Pretty sad, considering the demand and number of academically qualified students who would benefit from high schools like TJ and Stuy.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I spent my senior year playing a lot of 3 person spades and making out with my boyfriend.

I went to a high school for the gifted and talented. I'd run out of math classes to take, but did take some computer science I wouldn't have taken otherwise. And I got to take electricity and magnetism from a not sexist electrical engineer and realized my poor performance in mechanics the previous year had been more a result of the sexist physicist rather than something wrong with me. And organic chemistry was easy even though I learned nothing in the previous chemistry class and really didn't have the pre-req. I did a lot of volunteer work at a local fourth grade.

If I'd stayed at my local high school, there wouldn't have been much point in staying a full four years, though my ex boyfriend did get his associates degree at the same time he graduated from high school.

Anonymous said...

I don't see any conflict between the idea that people like to look back and view ages 17-18 as the best years of their lives and the idea of finishing high school early.

I look back with fondness on the years I was 17 and 18 as the middle of my college years, finishing my AA and taking a Junior year abroad. Those were certainly better things to look back on than homecoming (I was not a football player) or prom.

I remember meeting my ex-girlfriend on a class trip to Italy. She was a senior in High school, with her class and teachers, and I was (though also 18) there independently. We ditched her class and had a ball in Rome. Good times!