Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Slow Down, Speed Up


Can you run a mile? I suspect you can, though perhaps not as fast as you'd like. Top runners have completed the race in under four minutes. The military expects men to run it in eight and a half minutes, women in ten minutes. Some of us will need twenty or thirty. Should fast runners have to slow down to keep pace with the rest of us? Should slow runners be ashamed for falling behind and maybe be abandoned altogether?

If that sounds ridiculous to you, you ought to wonder about American high schools. As a principal, I discouraged early graduation, trying to convince those who could complete their requirements in three years to hang on another year. Juniors and seniors who were behind on credits were handed overwhelming course schedules to catch up and graduate with their class.  But why?

Four years may well be an appropriate amount of time to complete high school curriculum.  For some.  But those who complete sooner or need more time ought not be pressured to fall back into step with their peers. Consider the following information about high school enrollment in the 34 OECD nations from the National Center for Education Statistics:

Percentage of Students in High School (2008)


Top Five
Age 16
Age 17
Age 18
Age 19
Age 20
Age 21
Belgium
100%
99%
47%
23%
13%
10%
Czech Republic
100%
97%
83%
37%
7%
3%
Sweden
99%
98%
92%
20%
11%
12%
Poland
98%
96%
90%
36%
11%
6%
Netherlands
98%
97%
61%
48%
27%
14%







United States
95%
84%
23%
5%
below 1%
below 1%







OECD Average
92
84
52
25
13
9
Bottom Five






Chile
90%
87%
33%
11%
3%
2%
Luxembourg
88%
79%
70%
42%
25%
12%
New Zealand
86%
69%
23%
11%
8%
7%
Mexico
58%
46%
18%
30%
3%
2%
Turkey
56%
33%
20%
below 1%
below 1%
below 1%

Our students graduate at ages 17 and 18.  In other industrialized nations, a quarter of 19 year olds attend high school and even one in seven 21 year olds. Why is it such a stigma to be a "fifth year senior" in America? And taking six years is so unusual that most drop out if they can't complete sooner.

Want to fix our drop out problem and make high school more rigorous? Let's start a national conversation about flexing the amount of time required to graduate. We don't run the mile at the same pace.  Why should we run through high school at identical rates? Instead of measuring four-year graduation percentages, let's put the learning ahead of calendar expectations.

If the curriculum is worth mastering, it's worth mastering in four years, two years or eight years.

1 comment:

I'm interested in your comments.