From 11th grade to college

Indiana will encourage students to skip senior year and go straight to college, the Hechinger Report notes. Under Gov. Mitch Daniels’ plan, high school students who complete their core requirements by the end of their junior year can go straight to college with a scholarship based on how much money the state would have spent — $6,000 to $8,000 for most — on their 12th-grade education.

Daniels said he came up with the idea after years of asking seniors he met across the state what they were up to and too often being told “not much.”

“I kept bumping into seniors who said, ‘Well, I’m done,’ ” he said. “They’d laugh and tell me they were having a good time. We are spending thousands of dollars on students who are eligible to move on.”

Senior year is a time for “drift and disconnection,” concludes the National Commission on the High School Senior Year.

Solutions over the past decade have trended toward mixing college and high school courses through dual-enrollment programs or early-college high schools, where students can earn an associate degree and a diploma.

But Daniels’ preferred strategy — shortening high school altogether — also is catching on.

In Idaho, 21 districts will give early-graduation scholarships. Kentucky is thinking about it. In the fall, eight states will begin a program that lets students test out of the last two years of high school and go directly to community college. The National Center on Education and the Economy and the Gates Foundation are backing the idea.

One of my best friends in high school left after 11th grade for college. She was impatient to get on with it. (She dropped out after a year to organize the proletariat for the revolution.)

My daughter’s half-sister skipped high school entirely. Now 18, she will earn a bachelor’s in classics, summa cum laude, on Saturday from the University of Santa Clara and go on to Berkeley for her PhD. It was a challenge to buy her a graduation card. Nothing seemed to fit quite right.

Update: Ed Next looks at high school students who attend college part-time.

NCEE: U.S. reforms don’t match Korea, etc.

U.S. education policy should emulate the world’s top performers — Finland, South Korea, Singapore, Japan and Ontario, Canada — concludes a report (pdf) by the National Center on Education and the Economy.

“The most effective way to greatly improve student performance in the United States is to figure out how the countries with top student performance are doing it, build on their achievements and then, by building on our unique strengths, figure out how to do it even better,” Marc Tucker, NCEE’s CEO, said in a statement.

While none of the top performers test students annually, they require students to pass a national, comprehensive, standardized “gateway test” at the end of middle school and again at the end of 10th grade. “Because the exams are very high quality, they cannot be ‘test prepped;’ the only way to succeed on them is to actually master the material,” NCEE says.

Other recommendations include the reallocation of money — spending more on paying quality teachers and less on state-of-the-art school facilities, new textbooks, and administrators. The report also recommends that states take more of a responsibility for funding schools, moving away from the majority local-funded system the country uses now.

After praising the new Common Core Standards in math and English, the report calls for adding more subjects to create a national curriculum, notes the San Jose Mercury News.

In the five exemplary countries, national curricula also cover science, social sciences, arts, music and often religion, morals or philosophy.

Improving teacher quality is critical, the report finds, suggesting moving credential programs to high-status universities and raising entrance requirements.

In Finland, for example, only one in 10 applicants is accepted into teacher-training programs, which take five or more years to complete. By contrast, in 2008, U.S. high school graduates intending to major in education scored in the bottom third on their SAT college-entrance exams. “We cannot afford to continue bottom fishing for prospective teachers while the best-performing countries are cream skimming,” the report said.

Small classes are a waste of money, the study says. “Of all the strategies available to improve student performance, decreasing class size is among the most expensive and least effective.”

Ed Week has more on the report and the debate it’s set off.

I like the idea of gateway exams — but what’s the plan if lots of students fail? Most top-performing countries use those exams to decide who should go to a college-prep high school and who should go to a career-prep school.  That would be a humongous change for the U.S.

Recruiting teachers only from the top of the class would reduce the number of black and Hispanic teachers. Are we OK with that?

NCEE doesn’t like change on the fringes, such as charter schools. It calls for aligning the education system. A national curriculum in all subjects backed by national gateway exams would do that. The top performers tend to have a college-entrance exam too. We could stop sending high school graduates to college to take eighth-grade math. Are we ready to make all public schools march to the beat of the same drummer? I can see the attraction, but it makes me nervous.