Dump 12th grade to fund preschool

Years ago, when he was making a documentary called The Promise of Preschool, John Merrow talked to a Georgian who said he’d like to get rid of 12th grade and “spend the money on free, universal, high-quality preschool,” writes John Merrow of Learning Matters TV. He wonders: Why not?

States with exit exams generally peg them to a 10th grade level, which ought to tell you something about official expectations.  Across the nation, savvy (and bored) kids are enrolling in college courses while still in high school–if their system allows.  You may recall our profile of one Texas school district on the Mexican border where many students have a substantial number of college credits under their belt when they graduate high school. Some actually receive their Associates Degrees from the local community college the same day they pick up their high school diplomas!

I conclude from that story, and from the tales from students in other school districts, that a ‘business as usual’ senior year is a waste of time. Thousands of motivated kids refuse to accept that state of affairs and so enroll in college, and that’s commendable, but why not raise the bar in high school and shorten the time?  If some students need a twelfth year, fine. But why bore hundreds of thousands of our youth?

Merrow guesses eliminating 12th grade would free up $6,400 for every four-year-old.

But every four-year-old doesn’t need preschool. Those who do — the kid whose single mom can’t read well enough to get through Goodnight Moon — need intensive, expensive early education. And they won’t be ready for college after 11th grade.

Start kids at 3 and abolish 12th grade

Children should start school at 3 but skip 12th grade, writes Linus D. Wright, who served as undersecretary of Education in the Reagan administration, in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Center on the Developing Child, at Harvard University, found that in the first few years of life, 700 neuron connections are formed every second. If children do not receive sufficient nurturing, nutrition, interaction, and stimulation during this period of remarkable growth, they may have deficiencies that will affect the rest of their lives.

“A fully financed mandatory early-childhood-education program would do more to change the culture and academic outcomes of students than any other area of reform,” Wright argues.

Step two of the formula for improving education at every level in the United States is to eliminate the 12th grade. It is the least productive and most expensive of all grades, and the money saved by getting rid of it would pay for early-childhood programs, which are the most productive and least expensive.

Most students are taking electives in 12th grade, he writes. They’re focused on their part-time jobs. Move ‘em out and use the savings for the little kids.

Paying for points

Paying for points raised 12th graders’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in a new study reported in Inside School Research.

NAEP is a no-stakes tests for students who take it. Twelfth-grade scores are low, perhaps because seniors don’t try very hard, realizing the exam doesn’t matter to their futures.

Working with 2,600 seniors from 59 schools in seven states, researchers randomly assigned students to three groups.  One group was paid $20 at the start of the NAEP reading exam.  Another group got $5 in advance and $30 at the end of the session if they correctly answered two randomly chosen questions on the test. The control group just took the exam.

Students who were paid in advance outperformed the control group; students who had to get answers right to earn $30 did the best.  Students who were paid were more likely to say they tried hard and that it was important to them to do well.

“There is now credible evidence that NAEP may . . . underestimate the reading abilities of students enrolled in 12th grade,” the authors write. On the other hand, the black-white achievement gap was larger when monetary incentives were offered, according to the study.

Researchers say it would be too costly to pay all seniors to try hard on NAEP exams.