New ways to do high school 

At Omaha’s Bryan High, students may plant potatoes, care for chickens, tour Union Pacific headquarters or sort and ship books at a school-based distribution center, reports Education Week.

“Students can choose from 16 career clusters and two pocket academies—one focused on urban agriculture and natural resources and another on transportation, distribution, and logistics—or TDL, for short.”

Katrina Whitford, another junior, holds a chicken in her lap as she works in an animal science class at Bryan.

Katrina Whitford, a junior, holds a chicken as she works in an animal science class. Photo: Ryan Henriksen, Education Week

The story is part of Ed Week‘s Diplomas Count report, which focuses on new ways to do high school.

Another story looks at a new Denver high school that’s struggling to make its model work.

Northfield High was designed to place all students, regardless of past achievement, in rigorous International Baccalaureate classes. Students can pursue “pathways” in the arts, business, biomedical sciences and other subjects of interest.

The school also pledged to base grades on mastery, rather than homework completion or class participation.

Teachers were supposed to help run the school and share counseling responsibilities.

However, the principal was forced out in October after complaints about discipline. A majority of teachers will not return next year. The advisory program has been changed.

The second year’s incoming class will be predominantly Latino with fewer white and black students choosing the program.

The four-year graduation rate is up to 82 percent, notes Ed Week. Neerav Kingsland adds: “Expected to hit 102% with new credit recovery program.”

What does a high school grad need to succeed?

Many years — perhaps 25 — ago, I was asked my advice on a school district’s new graduation requirements. I said, “Go to your local community college and to employers who hire high school graduates. Ask what skills and knowledge one of your graduates would need to have a chance of passing an entry-level course or qualifying for an entry-level job. That’s what your diploma should require.”

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. (Photo by Elizabeth Redden)

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. Photo: Elizabeth Redden, Hechinger Report

A high school diploma should signify the graduate is ready for the first year of college, writes Marc Tucker in Education Week. That “is a far higher standard than most high school diplomas are set to currently.”

He envisions states setting the syllabi for required core courses and writing the exams, which would be graded by outside teachers. That’s a radical power shift.

Well-prepared students could complete the core in two years, he believes. Some would have two years for Advanced Placement or other high-level courses. Others could learn high-level technical skills, like vocational students in Singapore and Switzerland, at a community college or their high school.

Everyone would be expected to pass by the end of 12th grade.

We would be doing high school in high school, not in college, and therefore saving enormous amounts of money for both states and families.  We would have more brain surgeons and more specialty welders.

High schools could be held accountable for the proportion of students who earn the new diploma and the proportion who complete two-year and four-year degrees, Tucker writes.

What do you think? Is it doable? Should it be tried?

Reinventing high school

In Reinventing High School in The Atlantic, Deborah Fallows profiles The Center For Advanced Research and Technology (CART), which provides half-day career programs for 11th- and 12-grade students in Fresno County, California.

Inside a CART robotics lab

Inside a CART robotics lab

CART offers 16 career tracks, “from forensics to game design to law and order, robotics, biotech, engineering, business and finance, environmental science, psychology and human behavior, and many more,” writes Fallows.

Teachers all have work experience in their fields.

Students work on projects such as “cloning carrots, making movies, designing online games, and making toys,” she writes. In addition, students go on field trips and “do internships or projects that take them to hospital operating rooms, senior centers, and wildlife refuges.

CART also tries to develop confidence, self-esteem and teamwork. When students work together on projects, someone who lets down the team can be demoted to lesser responsibilities or kicked off the team.

Seventy-one percent of CART students enroll in community colleges, compared to 60 percent of similar students who didn’t participate, according to a a 2011 Irvine Foundation study of the graduating classes of 2003 to 2009. Twenty-three percent of CART students enrolled in universities, a bit more than the 21 percent of non-CART students who did so.

Should high schools pay for remediation?

Tennessee high schools would have to pay for recent graduates who require remedial courses in community colleges under a proposed bill, reports the Times Free Press.

Seventy percent of new community college students are placed into at least one remedial class, according to state estimates. Last year, the remediation bill totaled $18.45 million.

New tests compete with ‘unpassable’ GED

With GED pass rates down by 85 percent, states are turning to alternative tests, reports Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

— In 2012, a total of 401,388 people passed the GED test.

— In 2013, people rushed to take the old test in its final year, creating a bump: A total of 540,535 people passed.

— How many earned a GED credential in 2014? In the general population: 58,524.

The new GED is aligned to Common Core standards, which measure college readiness. It’s much harder — and more expensive — and must be taken on a computer.

“Teachers are telling us that the new test is virtually impossible for students to pass,” says David Spring, who with his wife, Elizabeth Hanson, runs the website Restore GED Fairness.

The High School Equivalency Test, or HiSET, produced by ETS and the University of Iowa is now coming into use in 12 states, reports Kamenetz. McGraw-Hill’s TASC has been approved in nine states.

However, in 34 states, passing the GED is the only route to a high school equivalency credential.

Previously, GED aspirants could pass part of the test, then retake the sections they’d failed. Now they have to pass all of it at the same time or start over from scratch.

People may be scared off by the harder test, said Diane Renaud, who runs the St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Center in Detroit. “The vast majority of the people taking the GED are not likely to be college-bound,” she told the Detroit Free Press. “However, to get a job, where you’re able to earn a minimum livable wage, you have to have a GED.”

CT Turner, spokesman for the GED Testing Service, said there are few jobs for people with just a GED or high school diploma. Available jobs require additional job training or education, said Turner.

Choice creates ‘the big sort’

Choice has expanded dramatically in Chicago, report Linda Lutton and Brendan Metzger for WBEZ. Most parents choose between an array of district-run and charter high schools.  That’s led to The Big Sort:  High-performing students go to the district’s selective “test-in” high schools,  average students choose schools with other average students and the low performers cluster in very low-performing schools.

Here an interactive chart.

Many of the district-run new and specialty schools are allowed to screen out low achievers. Charters can’t do that, but the application process can discourage unmotivated parents. Noble, the city’s largest charter network, has agreed to let parents submit applications without attending information sessions and to make it clear that submitting an essay is optional.

In tough neighborhoods, the weakest students and those with the least savvy parents end up in comprehensive high schools.

Middle-class students and high performers have been avoiding some Chicago high schools for decades, concede Lutton and Metzger.  Students know which schools are for which students.

“If you get straight As and you do really good on testing, the school you’ll probably get accepted into is Northside, Walter Payton, Whitney Young,” says (Lane Tech) freshman Amber Hunt.

What about the B students? “Schools with IB programs sometimes take solid Bs,” says Amber. “Charter schools are kind of like if you’re average, or slightly below average.”

Students who do poorly in grammar school go to neighborhood schools, students say.

Lane Tech students enjoy attending school with high achievers. “It raises the standards a lot,” says freshman Paradise Cosey. Another freshman says this is the first year since fifth grade that classmates haven’t asked to copy her work.

(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
Kadeesha Williams wanted to go to Marine Military Academy, where 48 percent of ninth graders score above average. She ended up at Marshall, where 14 percent come in above the district’s average.


WBEZ also looks at Marshall Metropolitan High School, where 86 percent of ninth graders score below the district average. Some can’t read.

Kadeesha Williams, who’ll be a sophomore in the fall, wanted to go to Marine Military Academy, a district-run school nearby, “but my mom, she lost the paperwork.” Her mother claims the school lost Kadeesha’s test scores.

Kadeesha likes Marshall because the teachers are so helpful. The school is focused on helping struggling students.

But for many students Marshall is “a school of last resort,” says teacher James Dorrell. “They try to enroll in charter schools or selective enrollments, and once they can’t get in, they would come here.”

Dorrell says after a re-staffing and infusion of money in 2010, Marshall is hugely improved. . . . Freshmen have double periods of English and math. Many take reading — a subject other high schools don’t even offer.

But test scores remain low and more students drop out than earn a diploma.

Prom without proofreading

prom theme

Via ABC reporter Chuck Goudie’s Facebook page.

Just like old times at Ridgemont High

RealClearEducation fondly recalls Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a “ridiculous and also a dead-on encapsulation of high school angst.”

High schools are “long overdue for more customization,” writes RCE. Technology can help via “badging and competency-based education” — if  policymakers and educators accept that “there is nothing sacred about the four-year traditional high school experience.”

We’re supposed to reinvent ourselves, as Jeff Spicoli said:

 What Jefferson was saying was, Hey! You know, we left this England place ’cause it was bogus; so if we don’t get some cool rules ourselves – pronto – we’ll just be bogus too! Get it?

What can Fast Times tell us about high school reform? asks Eduwonk.

High school is easy, but life is hard

High school is a bit easier than it used to be, but the rest of life is a lot harder, writes New York Times columnist David Brooks. He’s been reading UCLA’s latest survey of college freshmen.

In 1966, only about 19 percent of high school students graduated with an A or A- average. By 2013, 53 percent of students graduated with that average.

The grades are higher even though, for many, the workload is lighter. As late as 1987, nearly half of high school students reported doing at least six hours of homework a week. By 2006, less than a third of all students reported doing that much work.

By the first year in college, students are worried about college costs and payoffs. They’re much more likely than earlier generations to see college as job training, writes Brooks.

In 1966, only 42 percent of freshmen said that being well-off financially was an essential or very important life goal. By 2005, 75 percent of students said being well-off financially was essential or very important.

“Developing a meaningful philosophy of life” was a priority for 86 percent of first-year students in 1966. Now, less than half say that’s essential or very important, Brooks points out. “In the shadow of this more Darwinian job market, it is more acceptable to present yourself as utilitarian, streamlined and success-oriented.”

Graduation rate hits 80%

The high school graduation rate hit 80 percent in 2012, according to the U.S. Education Department. If progress continues, the four-year graduation rate could reach 90 percent by 2020.

Graduation rates increased 15 percentage points for Hispanic students and 9 percentage points for African American students from 2006 to 2012, with the Hispanic students graduating at 76 percent and African-American students at 68 percent, the report said.

Fewer students attend “dropout factories” — schools that graduate less than 60 percent of students.