Three states eye bold high school reforms
Among the potential changes: college at 16, teacher-run schools, and state exams with assignments.
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Business and political leaders are increasingly alarmed by America's standing among industrialized nations: It's 21st in high school graduation rates, for instance, and ranks at similarly low levels in math and science scores. Rather than simply lament the statistics, they hope to learn from nations that have made great strides. The commission will give partner states technical assistance, including access to consultants from abroad.Skip to next paragraph
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"Doing well isn't good enough," says Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville. "This is a challenging time to launch such a change movement," he says, referring to the economic downturn, but "the cost of not initiating [this] scope and scale of change ... far exceeds in the long run the cost of doing it."
One recommendation in the Tough Choices report: Ensure that young children have the supports they need to do well in school. Massachusetts has just created a Child and Youth Readiness Cabinet, a panel that will share health, social services, and education information in a student-data system. In some urban schools, an early warning system should be in place in the coming year to help students at risk of dropping out.
Tough Choices also urges that teaching be treated as a profession on a par with other professions. Utah has begun raising teacher salaries in an effort to recruit top college graduates.
Massachusetts' new 10-year education plan includes making room for schools created and run by teachers. These would parallel charter schools by fostering innovation but would keep funding within the regular school system. Teachers who want such leadership roles will "have to perform at high levels ... [and] be held accountable," Mr. Reville says.
The National Education Association (NEA), a major teachers union, is allowing its state affiliates to help implement parts of the Tough Choices agenda, because it emphasizes the need to give "teachers the same kind of control over their work that other professionals have," says NEA executive director John Wilson.
Although unions object to some of the ideas, such as dismantling the traditional teacher pension system, their willingness to partner with states on the overall framework is important, Tucker says.
In response to the report, Utah created the 21st Century Workforce Initiative to address what's been dubbed the state's "grand canyon": a steep drop-off in which 57 percent of high school graduates don't go on to postsecondary education. Among those who do, half don't come back for their second year, says Gayle McKeachnie, an adviser to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Recommendations on how to integrate economic development and education goals are expected in early 2009.
New Hampshire's consideration of a state board exam also echoes one of the report's key proposals. The idea is that students should be able to demonstrate that they are ready for the next level of education, but that they might arrive there at different paces.
One potential model for state exams is the University of Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education. Used in many countries, it includes an exam, but also a series of assignments graded by teachers. That "allows you to give assignments which show skills and capacities that are almost impossible to demonstrate in the typical traditional testing environment," Tucker says, which is important as workplaces increasingly seek people who show both creativity and analytical skills.