The enormous problem of America’s under performing schools is solved? You, the reader, are probably thinking that this historic solution, if it really exists, resulted from breakthroughs in technology. All those marvelous apps, whiteboards, and computers are turning the tide against defective schools. Nope, that’s not it.
How about school choice, vouchers and charter schools? Nope, that’s not it either.
Maybe some combination of preschool programs, high-stakes testing, virtual schools, parent trigger, or common core? Nope, nope, not even close.
Well then, what is it? Here’s the answer: Because of the availability of alternative public school programs such as magnet schools and charters, along with parent access to private schools through vouchers and savings accounts, almost half the students in public school districts will no longer remain in neighborhood schools during middle school and high school. Parents who are vitally interested in their children’s educational future will get their kids into the many excellent public school opportunities and tuition-assisted private school programs.
Most of the other 50% of children who remain in neighborhood schools will have the opportunity to enter career studies leading to certifications that allow them to acquire high-paying and interesting jobs. A much smaller group of this remaining neighborhood student population, approximately
5% -10% will take rigorous college prep courses.
All of the heartaches and controversies over high-stakes testing will be put to bed, along with No Child Left Behind, Core Curriculum, and a myriad of other fix-ups from conservative and liberal reformers who continue to miss the boat. College prep kids coming from public schools of excellence will continue to take high-stakes achievement exams and follow a core curriculum, but the majority of public neighborhood school students, who will enroll in career studies, won’t take these state and federal tests. They will just take local tests on the academics needed for their certification areas.
Presto! Public school problems solved! The result: a 97% graduation rate, the elimination of breeding grounds for crime and drugs, higher academic standards for those attending college –– and an elite workforce. Sounds marvelous, doesn’t it? But can we accomplish this great reform? Certainly, many will object. Will we see it in our lifetime?
In my research report, The Elephant in the Classroom, I learned that the surprising answer is yes –– because it has already started. The State of Florida may be leading our country in this approach because almost half of Florida’s students are in schools of their choice (or their parents’ choices). Large numbers of the remaining students enter career programs. In fact, one county, Pinellas, plans to have 50% of all students in career studies by 2017. Hopefully, that will rise to a more realistic level of 60% – 70% in the future.
And what do we mean by career studies? Are we talking about leaving some kids behind? Are we talking about shop classes and industrial arts programs? No way. These are sophisticated career programs leading to valuable certifications. Some Florida high schools assign all freshmen to career studies with the exception of those who have the ability and motivation for college studies.
An example of the types of programs that will develop and flourish are found in classes in piloting, space flight and aeronautical science. “This high school started a ‘wall-to-wall’ academy concept last year in which all students take classes in career-themed areas such as business, science, technology, fine arts and hospitality. Students can earn industry certifications giving them a path directly to work.” Cara Fitzpatrick, “School Program Takes flight,” Tampa Bay Times, November 29, 2013. And students can earn a pilots license by the time they complete the program!
Grade retention will be a thing of the past. College-prep students will be prepared for advanced academic material, and students in career studies will not progress by grade level but rather through achievement of a series of individual certifications at their neighborhood school location, as well as county career centers and community college programs. This will lead to concrete productivity and certificates of accomplishment. Completion of several years of career education will lead to a high school diploma, and this diploma will carry a much greater weight in the world of work than the regular academic high school diploma.
There are other models being developed across Florida. One with promise takes only juniors and seniors, and incoming students must be 16 years of age or older. Students have most of their academic work out of the way and spend the last two years of high school earning certifications as well as high school and college credits.
If things are looking so good, why did I add almost? What more is needed?
Unfortunately, today’s students in career studies can’t just focus on functional academics tied to their career specialties. They still need to worry about comprehensive academics such as Spanish and chemistry, along with high-stakes testing. So we are close, very, very close, but we’re not completely there.
What legislators simply need to do is to continue establishing career academies and continue to recognize the differences between students who are motivated and capable of attending college –– and the vast majority of students who are better challenged through career studies.
State legislators will continue to support high-stakes testing and common core for college prep students, but career students will receive rigorous evaluation based on their certifications and related academics; not state and federal academic tests that don’t relate to what they are doing.
Unfortunately, most states and most counties have not reached this level of sophistication and continue their political in-fighting. They are still tripped up by two great American myths: that all students should go to college and that all students are pretty much the same in ability and interests. The result is that all kids are left behind.