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.

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.

Is 12th grade necessary?

A Utah legislator proposed eliminating 12th grade — “nothing but playing around”  — to save $102 million a year.  Now Republican State Sen. Chris Buttars has modified that to making the senior year optional for students who’ve completed enough credits.

“You’re spending a whole lot of money for a whole bunch of kids who aren’t getting anything out of that grade,” Buttars said. “It comes down to the best use of money.”

. . . “The kids either got one foot in AP classes in college, or they’re just running around taking P.E.,” Buttars said.

Utah teachers says most students need 12th grade to complete high school work and prepare for college. Those with extra credits already can collect a diploma early, though presumably Utah could offer college discounts for those who graduate early and save taxpayers money.

How many 12th graders are wasting their time — or enrolled in classes they could be taking at a local community college?

Update: Under a Gates-funded experiment, 10th graders who pass a series of exams could enroll immediately in community college. Those who fail can try again after 11th grade.

The new system of high school coursework with the accompanying board examinations is modeled largely on systems in high-performing nations including Denmark, England, Finland, France and Singapore.

The goal is to make it clear what students need to learn to succeed in college.