Reinventing High School
Ohanian Comment: Once again we get half-baked ideas from the Times Standardista let loose on editorials about education. Not enough kids graduate from high school? Then make those schools more rigorous.
Be sure and blame the teachers. And complain that NCLB should have pushed harder.
The achievement gap between rich and poor students is narrowing in some states, thanks to the added resources and better instruction that are a result of the No Child Left Behind Act. But that good news is largely limited to the early grades. Progress is stalled in high schools, where more states are slipping behind than are making progress, and American teenagers have lost ground when compared with their peers in other industrialized nations. The United States, which once led the world in high school graduation rates, has plummeted to 17th - well behind France, Germany and Japan.
The American high school is a big part of the problem. Developed a century ago, the standard factory-style high school was conceived as a combination holding area and sorting device that would send roughly one-fifth of its students on to college while moving the rest directly into low-skill jobs. It has no tools to rescue the students who arrive unable to read at grade level but are in need of the academic grounding that will qualify them for 21st-century employment.
New York City recently embarked on a plan to develop a range of smaller schools, some of them aimed at the thousands of students whose literacy skills are so poor that they have failed the first year of high school three times. The plan is to pull these students up to the academic standard while providing some of them with work experiences. The National Governors Association has begun a high school initiative that calls for remedial services and partial tuition reimbursement for students who complete community college courses that lead to technical or industrial job certifications. The White House, rushing to get ahead of the parade, recently announced a high school project of its own. And other school districts are tinkering with gimmicks like cash bonuses for good grades.
The emerging consensus is that the traditional high school needs to be remade into something that is both more flexible and more rigorous. But the rigor has to come first. Many states are still setting the bar for reading performance abysmally low in the primary grades, paving the way for failure when children move on to high school. State education departments have fudged vital statistics on graduation rates, as well as the teacher qualification data they have reported to the federal government in ostensible compliance with No Child Left Behind.
The federal Education Department failed to push the states toward doing better under the disastrous leadership of its departing secretary, Rod Paige. No matter how hard localities try, the best-designed high schools in the world will still fail unless the states and the federal government finally bite the bullet on teacher training. That means doing what it takes to remake the teacher corps, even if it means withholding federal dollars from diploma mills pretending to be colleges of education, forcing out unqualified teachers and changing the age-old practice of funneling the least-prepared teachers into the weakest schools.
New York Times