Rethinking High School

How we educate high school students in the U.S. needs to change. Our high schools are no longer relevant to the needs of 21st century learners and the system must be restructured. This restructuring will allow students to choose from a variety of new study options. The days of “one size fits all” for secondary education services are coming to a close – it is now about providing students with a “customized” course of study in their pursuit of a high school diploma. Students should have a choice among the traditional high school model, a community high-school model (a hybrid between traditional and online instruction), and an early-college model that will allow students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree by taking a fifth year of high school.

Central to all three high school study options, or combination of options, is an intensive focus on making each learner’s secondary school experience a successful one (particularly at the freshman level), and offering ubiquitous student access to the Internet both in school and at home (using a variety of mobile computing devices). A synopsis of each program option required in a restructured high school include:

Freshman Academy

Research has shown that the transition between middle and high school is one of the most difficult developmental challenges a person faces in life. Students who are not successful in 9th grade are six times more likely to drop out before completing high school compared to their peers. The reasons for such a high failure rate include a variety of student factors upon entering high school:

– Physically and emotionally changing;

– Different setting with different expectations and experiences;

– Moving from a school environment designed to nurture children to one that

is designed to produce independent young adults;

– Academics are more challenging;

– Young teenagers are immersed with older teens.

A Freshman Academy helps to ameliorate these potential problems and issues by creating a “school within a school” environment as part of the larger high school student population. This is done by clustering 9th grade teaching teams and classrooms together, and utilizing group of upper classmen that will provide peer support. The program ensures that teachers have adequate student-focused common planning time and engage in cross-curricular instruction. Parent involvement and peer mentoring are also key components of the Academy.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

Technology plays a large role in our students’ lives today. Personal devices can enhance and enrich learning opportunities both at home and at school. High schools today must be committed to allowing responsible, learning-centered use of personal devices at school so as to provide as many pathways to understanding and learning as possible for students.

Access to robust wireless networks is vital to student success these days using a variety of mobile computing devices. These devices can be either school-provided or personal laptops, tablets, or smart phone; however access to the Internet must be filtered to be in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Access from a personal device should be primarily for Internet use, but students can be given access to their own email account and document folder on the school’s network server.

For purposes of allowing students ubiquitous access to the Internet for instructional purposes, “technology” means a privately-owned wireless and/or portable electronic hand-held equipment that includes, but is not limited to: existing and emerging mobile communication systems and smart technologies, portable Internet devices, hand-held entertainment systems or portable information technology systems that can be used for word processing, wireless Internet access, image capture/recording, sound recording, and information transmitting / receiving/storing.

Hybrid Community High School

The creation of a hybrid community high school, in addition to traditional high, merges traditional and online learning into one customizable secondary education program. This hybrid is particularly attractive to students who do not do well in the traditional high school setting, such students at-risk of academic failure, gifted students, or students who are just plain bored and need something different. This merger results in one, united flexible-program high school for “non-traditional” high school students who, for one reason or another, would prefer to complete many of their required credits online instead of in the classroom.

Every student attending the hybrid program receives a graduation plan during their enrollment period that best meets their individual needs. To ensure that students have the best opportunity for success with a program of this sort, a mandatory three-week (15 day) orientation is required of all new students designed to prepare them for independent online work using an online curriculum (such as e2020), while the faculty assesses each student’s strengths and weaknesses.

In my school district, students are required to complete a series of in-classroom courses that include: Career Cruising, Effective Note-Taking & Study Skills, and Strategies for Academic Success before being placed in one of three tiers that allow for independent work online anywhere, any place, and at any time. Each tier is designed to offer a customized blend of in-school support with a student-centered approach to providing educational services online on the student’s terms, not the staff’s terms. Students are assigned to an instructional track based on in-class performance, online attendance and activity, grades, and level of self-motivation after they complete orientation.

Students are reevaluated at the end of every session, at which time they may be assigned to a new instructional tier based on the above criteria. Tier 1 students are required to attend class five days per week, receiving the most in-class support and supervision. Tier 2 students receive in-school instruction 2 to 4 days per week. Tier 3 students need only attend school one day per week. In all three tiers, students are able to work an unlimited number of hours at home and have access to e2020 courses 24 hours per day. All students have access to teacher support via email or phone. Additionally, students in the hybrid community high school program must have access to the regular high school program and allowed to take courses there and participate in the full range of extracurricular programs alongside their traditional high-school peers.

Early College Program

It is widely accepted that a majority of today’s jobs, eight or nine of every 10, require education beyond a high-school diploma. It is also known from U.S. Census data that most adults in the U.S. have not yet completed a two or four year degree. Although nearly 70% of high-school graduates start some college classes, only about 20% actually complete a degree. One significant problem today is that many students find that completing a college degree is difficult because of the many conflicting financial and time commitment priorities they face in today’s economy. A successful pathway to a college degree now requires a coordinated collaboration among high school, college, family, and community partners.

In my school district in Michigan, we have developed an early college program for a cohort of 50 committed students who agree to a rigorous academic program beginning in the 11th grade and continuing in a dual-enrollment program with a local community college through a 13th year in order to obtain both a High School Diploma and an Associate’s Degree. The program also provides an occupational track for students who wish to pursue a one year Certificate or Associates degree in a skill based area of technology, health, or business.

The cost of tuition for obtaining the Associate’s degree is paid by the school district, which utilizes it’s per pupil state aid payments to fully fund the program. There are very little out-of-pocket costs to the students. The savings on two full years of college tuition alone is estimated to range from $8,000 to $50,000 and beyond. The early college program also reduces the amount of actual time it will take a student to complete a degree by one year, which could provide one extra year of potential income in their lifetime. This earning opportunity value could range anywhere from $25,000 to $80,000 or more, depending on the student’s degree. Although textbook expenses are covered, some personal transportation costs will be the obligation of the student; although bus service between our high school and the community college is provided free of charge.

Early college students are enrolled in both high school and college for grades 11, 12, and 13. These students will complete a traditional six-year college education (four years of high school and two years of community college) in only five years, thereby accelerating their baccalaureate and/or graduate degrees.

Students with the Associate’s Degree are eligible transfer to most colleges and universities throughout the country. Because the first two years of tuition will be paid for by the school district, the student eligibility for sports scholarships, academic scholarships, and/or Pell grants will be extended to the year following the 13th year. Students do not lose eligibility for opportunities for college scholarships or federal financial aid because of their participation in our early college program.

Students who may not wish to pursue a Bachelor’s degree program are eligible to enter into a career program that provides employable skills while earning credits toward an Associate’s Degree or completion of a Certificate in the field of technology, computer occupations, nursing, and health/medical areas. Those obtaining an Associate’s Degree in any the community college’s technical/career program are eligible to transfer to universities or colleges that have approved Bachelor degree agreements with the community college for their specific area of study.

Through a unique partnership, counselors from both our high school and the community college provide services to early college students that support them throughout high school and their 13th year.

Summary

By rethinking how high school instruction is delivered, American secondary education can begin offering a truly customizable to its students. In so doing, we can produce high school and Associate’s degree graduates with a comprehensive set of critical thinking and tech-savvy skills that will serve our country well as these students compete for the new jobs in our global economy.