From 10th grade to college

The proposed 10th-grade “diploma” — teens would pass “board exams” and go directly to  college — is not a good idea, argue Ze’ev Wurman and Sandra Stotsky in the San Francisco Chronicle. The National Center on Education and the Economy is pushing the idea, with Gates Foundation funding, as a way to motivate bored students and encourage college enrollment.

In the top third of the class, most bright 15-year-olds aren’t mature enough to handle a college environment, they write. They can find challenging AP courses in high school — and supplement their learning with  community college courses, if they’re ready.

Students in the middle third often end up in remedial college classes after 12 years of high school. They need stronger coursework through high school to prepare for college

The bottom third — students at high risk of dropping out — need access to modern career-technical high schools.

These high schools give students a pathway for grades nine-12 that maintains their academic options for post-secondary education but also provides them with hands-on training in an occupation of their choice and the potential for high earnings right after graduation.

In Massachusetts, these schools have waiting lists and have become schools of choice, with a 100 percent success rate even on the state’s 10th-grade academic assessment.

Colleges already are coping with unprepared students, they write.  They don’t need more undergrads with minimal reading, writing and math skills — and less maturity.

Of course, if the exams really measured college readiness, very few students would pass at the end of 10th grade or even the end of 11th grade.

About Joanne


  1. I had a young friend do this – but she was very unique. She had social issues in college (being 2-4 years younger than her classmates) but handled it well. Not all would.

    Rather than push kids too fast, why not make the high school curriculum better?

  2. …a way to motivate bored students…

    My rule of thumb: if you’re bored, it’s because you’re boring. Changing classrooms won’t help.

  3. Delaware has a decent program for doing this. Instead of requiring AP, they let the kids take the equivalent college courses instead. They also have a summer school program that offers residential college courses. It works well, but is only really useful for the advanced students. They also have the problem that some of the less mature kids blow the college courses off. Then it comes back to haunt them when they go to real college and those classes are still on their transcripts dragging down their GPA.

    Honestly, some things are better taught at the high school level anyway. I don’t mean in a philosophical eduwonk sense either. The level of instruction I received in high school calculus was superior to anything I received in college. My AP science courses were also the equal of my introductory college courses. My high school teachers knew how to teach. Some of my college professors knew how to teach, but often did not (especially with Math profs).

  4. Nevada has a 2+2 program in which students after the end of their sophomore year and are motivated enough and have the grades go to a local comm. college and at the end of two years, they graduate with a high school diploma and a associate’s degree at the same time.

    This would probably be a better option for many students, and would knock two years off of the 4 year degree (you can get all your core classes out of the way at the comm/junior college), get dual credit for high school courses at the same time, and be able to finish a bachelors by 19 or 20.

    Not a bad idea, if states adopted this concept.

  5. Minnesota’s PSEO (post-secondary enrollment options) program is excellent. High school students can take classes of their choice at any local CC or 4-year college, and their local school district pays tuition, fees and books. Students/families are responsible for transportation. The program was a great success for my student.

    It’s primarily designed for juniors and seniors and it is necesssary to qualify, with appropriate prerequisites/grades in the chosen subject, but the requirements were perfectly reasonable. I have heard of kids who went directly from 8th-grade to a community college and then to university, with great satisfaction. The option gives recognition that the usual high school does not fit the needs/interests of all students.

  6. GoogleMaster says:

    I *started* to post negatively about the two largest CC systems in my area, which together serve about 120,000 students, about how this wouldn’t work for STEM majors because the CC doesn’t offer sophomore-level courses. However, I just checked the course catalog for one of them, and to my surprise they do offer many of the courses that a STEM major would take in sophomore year.

    The MATH department goes as high as differential equations and multivariate calculus, which I took as a sophomore on my way to a degree in Electrical Engineering at a private university that lands in the “best universities” list fairly regularly. The CHEM department of the local CC goes as high as Organic I and II, which I didn’t take but are typically taken sophomore year. The PHYS department is a little lacking, offering only as high as “University Physics I and II”, which seem to be equivalent to freshman-level first-semester mechanics and second-semester optics/relativity.

    Also, about 10-20 years ago, I believe my state standardized the course numbering and content across the various public universities and community colleges, with the intent that students *could* transfer credits.

    The problem with the plan of going to a CC for two years and transferring credits to a four-year university, however, is that this takes very careful planning, and if you are (or want to get) even the slightest bit ahead of schedule, you can’t do it because the CC doesn’t offer anything higher than sophomore-level courses. I and a number of my classmates took a bunch of junior-level courses in our major in our sophomore year, so this plan wouldn’t have worked for us.

    The other assumption is that the teaching and course quality at a CC is equivalent to what you’d get at a four-year school. Sometimes this can be true; you luck out and get a part-time CC instructor who has current experience in the field, whereas your four-year professor might be reading from the same notes he created for the class in 1975.

    At the very least, if they had access to a large, well-developed CC system like the ones in my large city, most students could certainly take their freshman year at a CC, with the freedom to accelerate and take the most common sophomore-level courses if they choose. In my district, you can take 15 credit hours for less than $1000. That’s only $2000 for freshman year, versus whatever astronomical amount a year at a university costs these days.

  7. Terri W. says:

    I did Minnesota’s PSEO program back when it was still young, over 20 years ago. It may not be for all students, but it was perfect for someone like me:

    4th in my class of 600 in the 7th grade, but dropping steadily like a rock from then on to 10th grade. Perfect scores on standardized tests. Completely unable to deal with the post-puberty but pre-maturity social goings-on of my peers.

    But then my first quarter of college at 16 years old, I had a 3.9.

    The social stuff had a few burps. (For example: the guy who asked me to go to a bar with him, and I had to explain why not. Poor guy: “What?? It’s not even safe to go to *college* anymore!” he cried.)

    But I quickly figured it out, and I think was helped by the fact that it was a community college — there were so many returning adult students that it wasn’t just a bunch of 18-22 year olds. The atmosphere was quiet, not party-oriented at all, and those returning students were there to *learn* — they knew the value of the dollars they were spending to be there.

    So I got my AA and transferred to the 4 year of my choice as a Junior and got my B.S.

    PSEO was a lifesaver for me.

  8. My experience with CC is that the level of instruction and student preparation/readiness/work ethic varies widely. The academic level and demands of the AP courses at the HS my oldest kids attended were greater than at the CC, because of the difference in student populations. I heard the same thing about some of the classes at the (different) CC where one kid did PSEO, but that mostly referred to the lower-level (esp. remedial) math and English courses. The higher-level foreign language courses he took were far stronger than at his highly-ranked HS (why he was there) and also much stronger than the prep his classmates had when he took advanced courses in college. It’s just something that needs to be investigated in advance.

    Terri also has a good point about the social aspects, especially for girls, since many look more mature than their chronological age. It’s something that should be adressed, in advance, before your 14-year-old daughter gets asked for a date by the 22-year-old guy from her class.

  9. Schools teach, test, and certify. College faculty also conduct research. Tax-subsidized government (“public”) schools at all levels provide employment for dues-pauing members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, padded supply anc construction contracts for politically-connected insiders, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination. Homeschooling and independent study can provide instruction for much less than can the State-monopoly K-PhD school system. Sylvan Learning Centers and the Kumon institute could administer tests for credit-by-exam under controled conditions. Certificates require a records office and a printing press.

    Aside from the research function, the entire education industry as it currently operates requires the artificial support of accreditation agencies, compulsory attendance laws, child labor laws, minimum wage laws, and tax subsidies.

    Time in school is a bogus measure of education. “A year of Algebra” makes as much sense as “a pound of friendship”. Same goes for “four-year degree”.

    mofof4 raises the only serious objection to acceleration. This objection does not apply to correspondence courses.

  10. Malcolm: I do not think that the age issue regarding acceleration is NECESSARILY a serious one. It is an issue that should be considered, on a student-by-student basis. In the case I mentioned, the girl was not only very confident and socially adept but was aware that she not only looked older but “functioned older”; a consequence of regular interaction with friends of her older siblings and elite training in a multi-age sport (swimming).

    Of course, if acceleration becomes more common, as I feel it should, there will be a whole group of younger kids in college classes; thereby forming a natural social group. I don’t feel the age issue justifies dismissal of early college opportunities.

  11. Perhaps I should clarify something. There is always a small fraction that can benefit from college courses in HS, or from leaving HS early for college. This fraction is already taken care in most states by various dual enrollment and early admission programs.

    What NCEE proposes is supposed to apply to a large fraction of high schoolers, and *particularly* to those who struggle with academics. For the life of me I can’t get it how students who already struggle will suddenly become ready for college in 10th grade if offered the opportunity.

  12. They won’t be; just as they likely weren’t ready for HS work either, but that’s not the point. The “graduation” rate will rise, the dropout rate will fall and lots of kids will be off the public school budget. (which, of course, will not be reduced) The fact that CC costs will rise is not of interest to the k-12 schools, which is interested only in its own budget.

  13. There is no reason IMHO for it to take 13 years to go through the entire K-12 curriculum for the top say 1/4 of students. The problem is not high school, though, but elementary school. I probably could’ve learned everything covered in 3rd and 4th grade in a single semester had the curriculum been compacted. And plenty more could easily do 6 years’ worth of material in 4.

  14. Hear, hear!!! The fraction capable of accelerating would vary widely across schools and districts, but so what? (other than politics, of course). I’m beginning to think that the racial/ethnic issue is THE dominant force in public schools, driving pretty much every decision: heterogeneous classrooms, elimination of tracking and gifted/honors classes, social promotion, focus on left end of Bell curve, curriculum decisions (weak lit, writing, sciences, humanities, Everyday Math), instructional methods (groupwork, discovery, peer tutoring), even AP/IB choices. “All” can “succeed” in English, so must have more of that, but sciences are “too white and Asian” (cue Berkeley HS) etc. etc.

  15. Except the problems momof4 mentioned are also found in schools that are overwhelmingly white. I don’t think it’s primarily a racial/ethnic issue (though that often inflames the controversy) but an overly Romantic view of human potential. We as a society have little problem with the idea that not every kid has the athletic talent to make the varsity team or the musical talent to play in the select orchestra. But by God every kid has the intellectual potential to take AP Calculus…

  16. Actually, it’s amazing that no one has ever looked at compressing the normal K-12 learning cycle into say perhaps 9 years…of course, we would be graduating 15 year olds from high school in total violation of state attendance laws which require compulsory attendance (not an education) until you’re 16 or 17.

    If schools started doing this, we would get back into the issue of tracking and grouping students by ability (can’t have any of that ya know).

    As my old science teacher used to say “the cream will rise to the top”…old, but true…

  17. Micha Elyi says:

    I recall how panicked the president of the NEA-affiliate teacher’s union local was when California introduced a high school equivalency exam back in the mid-1970s. She wasn’t worried that kids already on a trajectory to drop out would pass the exam, leave, and stop clocking seat-time (her phrase). Her big concern was that a fair percentage of the bright students would bolt high school for college. Across a large, suburban school district, that could be enough students to close a lot of classrooms. How relieved she was when the UC and CSU systems ruled that they would not accept a 16-year old’s equivalency exam results in place of a high school diploma.

    Things have changed, however, for the bright, motivated student in California who knows how to work the system.

  18. If the issue is students are not being challenged in High School, perhaps something needs to change at the high school instead of pushing students into college earlier. There is a maturity issue at which students are not ready to handle some of the additional responsibilities that college may bring in addition to harder course work.

    What is the value in pushing kids forward earlier? Are we just trying to get them in the work force earlier?

    If parents believe their students are not being challenged, they need to speak up and ask for more challenge. AP, IB, Concurrent Enrollment (Dual Enrollment) and programs at Community Colleges are just some of the possibilities. Perhaps parents need to be presenting their children with challenging endeavors that are outside of the school program, whether they be formal activities or projects of some sort.

    Often times students are pushed ahead and they are not ready. In all my 11 years teaching I saw students who were accelerated ahead to later burn out and not reach the potential. It is important that parents do not lose sight that these are kids and if they are accelerated needlessly they might snap.

    Mike – Total Registration, LLC – – Helping high schools simplify the AP exam registration process by registering students for the exams online.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JoanneLeeJacobs. JoanneLeeJacobs said: New blog post: From 10th grade to college […]

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by JoanneLeeJacobs: New blog post: From 10th grade to college