Commission: Senior year should be more demanding

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Delea Mowatt was bored.

The Windham, N.H., high school junior, who had aspirations of majoring in neuroscience in college, couldn't find a decent science class at her rural high school.

''It was basically a school where work wasn't really valued -- it was just attendance and being there,'' she said.

So she passed up her high school diploma and left New Hampshire last year for Simon's Rock College in Great Barrington, Mass. There, she and 390 young classmates take college-level courses in what ordinarily would have been their junior and senior years of high school. By the time they're 18, students earn associate's degrees or decide to continue for two more years and get bachelor's degrees.

A panel commissioned by the U.S. Education Department said more high schools and colleges should think like Simon's Rock.

In its final report, issued Thursday, the National Commis-sion on the High School Senior Year urged states to develop challenging alternatives to the traditional high school senior year, including programs that allow advanced students to enroll in college, either part- or full-time.

The report said U.S. high schools are not preparing enough students for college and careers. It proposed that college-preparatory courses be the ''default learning track for all'' rather than the privilege of a few.

Many students never finish college because they are not prepared in high school for higher academic demands. As a remedy, the report said, states should align their curriculum goals in subjects such as English and math to those of state colleges.

Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, a Washington group that represents urban and minority students, found the recommendations sensible.

''If you aligned what we expect high school seniors to know at the end of their high school career and what we expect college freshmen to be able to do at the beginning of their college career, we could really cut down a lot on the cost of remedial education, both to the larger society and to individuals,'' Wilkins said.

The commission was chaired by Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, who said he hopes the report gets people considering that high school diplomas simply aren't adequate anymore.

''Our view is that every child in today's world needs some post-secondary education,'' he said. ''It might just be a one or two-year program, but you need a specialized skill.''

Wilkins and others said even vocational jobs these days require knowledge of advanced math such as calculus.

Bernard Rodgers Jr., dean of Simon's Rock, said the school's program is designed for students who ''really feel like they've exhausted their high school: they're not challenged.''

The private school is affiliated with Bard College in New York's Hudson Valley. But Rodgers said the program has been replicated in public schools and colleges nationwide as school districts realize that many of their best students are dropping out.

''It's not one-size-fits-all,'' he said. ''We need to create different options so that students can have their own individual needs met.''

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