Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Third Option for Upper Secondary: Higher Schools

This post picks up where yesterday's left off, with tenth grade having been eliminated in comprehensive high schools (after ninth grade has been transferred back to middle school, in the old junior high school age structure common in east Asia).

Some students will opt for vocational schools and then change their minds, deciding that the job prospects for what they were thinking of doing don't look too good and that college might prove worthwhile after all. And others will opt for our upper secondary school, but discover that the standards are really higher now than they had expected, and will also be looking for another way.

So I propose a third option for students we now refer to as 11th-graders, those who in general have recently reached sweet 16. I envision a model comprehensive higher school, for students aged 16-19, resembling those now found in Norway; they would offer a mixed variety of general academic and vocational programmes, for students unsure about what they want to do with their lives (as so many of ours currently are) and wanting to keep as many options as possible open.

How is this different from our current high schools? Two differences are immediately apparent: with the grosser immaturity of the 14-16-year-old years having been spent elsewhere, these are likely to be calmer, more serious, more mature institutions, for people who chose to go there, rather than having landed there via a natural default mechanism, following mindlessly on the elementary and middle school trail, with no particular differences immediately expected. Forcing 15-year-olds to make a choice, and then to live with that choice for at least one year, is likely to result in any re-entrants to comprehensive schools being a bit more thoughtful in their initial attitudes towards the new institution, and this is likely to prove very helpful.

Secondly, because the age range starts at 16 and includes 19-year-olds (in Iceland, the Nordic upper secondary school goes to age 20), it is easy to expect not only a more generally mature campus culture, but also better connections with both higher education and employment, because of the age overlap with existing institutions. These upper secondary schools perform many of the functions of our community colleges, only they start at a somewhat younger age; and because increasing numbers of our high school students are electing dual enrolment in these upper secondary years, the shock of any change to our customs needn't be so great after all.

Of course, we don't have to change at all--we can keep doing things the same old way--but as Albert Einstein might have pointed out, wouldn't that be an insane way to pursue school improvement?

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