Pushing Kids To “Early College,” At End Of 10th Grade, Is Opposite Of Advancing Authentic High School Reform

Should academically successful adolescents go to college at the end of their tenth grade? An editorial this week in the DDN urges Ohio to adopt this early college idea, but the proposal brings up a lot of questions.

The DDN says early college is, “a promising high school reform effort.” Reform seeks to bring more efficiency or more success to a system. So, to me, here is the sticking point for this early college idea: The definition of success of the system of public education is so lazily considered, there is little standard for judging ideas for system improvement.

The DDN defines success for the system in terms of student academic accomplishment as measured in test scores, academic credits and academic degrees. This definition of system success is widely accepted. In recent years, high schools have offered more and more college level work via a great proliferation of Advanced Placement classes. In general, curriculum has been pushed to be “covered” earlier and earlier in each child’s academic career. Algebra, for example, traditionally was always considered a high school level course of study. Now we see high school Algebra commonly offered to academically gifted children in the seventh grade, and earlier. We see curriculum for Kindergarten students that previously was designed for older students.

The system of public education is built on the notion of competition. Students compete with each other for academic honors and advancement, and these academic honors eventually are translated into superior earning power. One frequently cited purpose for public education is to make America, itself, more competitive in the world at large.

This definition of system purpose is seldom, if ever, challenged. But, there are many ways to think about the purpose and aim of public education and U.S. taxpayers should be wary of accepting a purpose for public education that is embraced by totalitarian or oligarchic states. I’m sure North Korea also seeks school reforms that will help prepare its citizens to more effectively compete and to more perfectly conform to the state definition of education and to more completely acquiesce to the state’s system of credentialling and rewards.

Public education in the United States has slipped away from public control. Such “reforms” as the instituting of AP classes in high schools, or the initiating of early college opportunities, are undoubtedly pushed and desired by many parents and students who also define system success in terms of competition and in terms of gaining economic advantage. Starting in preschool, the race is on for the best grades, the most recognition and most impressive credentials. The central purpose of this race is seen as securing good economic results in terms of winning the best jobs and best opportunities.

Parents demand greater advantages for their children.  But the fact that a demand is made by a big block of parents doesn’t mean that acquiescing to the demand makes for good public policy. The consensus view of education, the view that fuels the DDN editorial, is not challenged nearly enough.

We need to remember that public education is funded with public money. The rationale behind the demand that taxpayers fund public education is that public education is important to securing and advancing the general good.

If the purpose of public education is seen as an economic purpose, it’s hard to justify, in terms of the public good, pumping boat loads of money into a system that produces relatively few winners, but multitudes of losers. And the notion that the system can ever make every child a winner in this academic race, that all children can go to college and get credentials that will assure good paying jobs, is absurd.

In Kettering, at a per pupil expense approaching $12,000 each year, a K-12 education costs over $150,000. Rather than giving this money each year to an educational establishment, if, instead, this money was invested, then each Kettering child at age 18 could be given an endowment from the community of about $200,000.

I know such a thought — to simply give the money directly to the students — sounds ridiculous, but the point is, if the rationale for spending tax money on public education is all about accomplishing the purpose of providing economic opportunities to community children, then let’s get serious about the best way to use available resources to accomplish that purpose. $200,000 would make a good start in life and would have much more value and utility for most students than what they are getting from their public education.

But, the point is, the general good a community expects from spending tax money on public education is one that transcends purely economic purposes. The future of our society requires new generations to show good character, to have a commitment to community, to be prepared for and well practiced in active citizenship and leadership in a democracy, to have a commitment to personal excellence. The purpose of public education is to prepare and empower new generations of citizens.

Helping students get academic credentials at an accelerated pace is not, as the DDN says, a “promising high school reform effort.” The general good we seek in public education, that as a society we can agree is so important that it demands a system of coercive taxation for its funding, transcends academic accomplishment. The general good we seek in public education transcends competition.

Authentic high school reform will require in-depth thinking about purpose, about how the common good we seek in public education should best be defined and how that common good can best be accomplished. Authentic high school reform will be hard work and will challenge current assumptions and challenge the educational establishment.

Authentic high school reform is difficult. Sending kids to college early is easy. Advancing the notion that pushing kids out of high school early — with the excuse that they are bored or unchallenged in the present system — is the opposite of advancing an idea for “high school reform.”

See: Thinking Through Purposes and Principles Needed To Guide the Re-Design of Public Education And see, To Transform Our System Of Education, We Must Redefine The Aim Of The System

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