In trying to place blame for these failures, teachers and administrations are the first to be accused. It follows then that if those in charge aren’t fixing the problem, why give them more money? Isn’t that the same thing as throwing the money down a rat hole? Point well taken, but further inspection of the problem is deserved before the teachers and the administration are thrown out with the bath water.
Two problems seem to be at play at the same time in today’s high schools. First, upon graduating or dropping out of school students have no further responsibility to our society with regard to any kind of payback. Secondly, high school curriculum has not changed a whole lot from the days when I went to high school more than 40 years ago.
At that time, a high school student who dropped out or graduated basically had two choices as to a course of action. They could either go on to college or join the military. Today, neither seems to be a choice for a good many former high school students. But it shouldn’t be a choice: Former high school students should be required to do, say, two years of service for our country either in the military or in a Peace Corps-type organization serving right here in the United States. As with the G.I. Bill for military veterans, those who successfully complete their two-year stint would be offered the opportunity to pursue further training at the university level or perhaps in a job training program.
Students could be deferred from this service if they went on to a college or university, but after their post-secondary education they would still owe the two years of service to the country. The reasons for this are many: It would require young people to give back some sweat equity in areas where their talents could be used and give them a degree of pride in knowing they have contributed to the common good of our country. They also might develop respect for our societal mores and strive a little harder to be good, contributing members of our society.
High school students today are more sophisticated than those of 40 years ago. This difference should be used to tailor high school curricula to take advantage of this sophistication and stimulate high school students to perform at a higher level than ever before. Allow today’s high school student to manage their high school education more by allowing them to choose from a menu of courses aligned with various areas of interest. Woodland High School in Woodland, Calif., followed a course of study in the 1990s called Pathways.
The Pathways program had booklets printed in various colors to represent the various career paths. Teams of teachers developed these paths that students could choose. Each booklet identified the high school, junior college and college courses needed to achieve the desired goal. Entry level and career expectations were delineated as well as typical incomes to be derived from the various paths. These booklets were readily available all over the school all year long.
Every student was given an entry-level interest inventory test prior to enrolling in school to assist both student and counselor in determining a path. Parent involvement also was required in this selection process. Students could change their pathway every grading period, even in their senior year. Students, parents and counselors met together twice a year. The school had more counselors than usual as a result of this requirement. The cost of the extra counselors was the only extra cost to the school district.
As a result of implementing this program, Woodland High School decreased its dropout rate from 17 percent to 12 percent in the first year. The administration found that students were bringing their classmates who had dropped out back to school as a result of implementing this program.
With a little fine tuning our public schools can become more successful and be a source of pride for all citizens as well.
Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.