The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Are High School Requirments Really Fair to Students?

on April 23, 2016

Today’s post is an extension of the one I wrote earlier this week. While thinking about all the things I studied at school—including college—that I never used and forgot later or even sooner, I’ve decided to advocate for changes in the high school curriculum. If you disagree with my argument let me know, but please think of what kids need today and in the future, not the past.

Still remembering all my “non-learning” experiences when I was a student I happened upon an article in the April 13 edition of “Education Week” that fired me up again. A study undertaken by The Education Trust reported: “Only 8 percent of high school graduates complete a curriculum that prepares them well for college and the workplace.” And it blamed schools for not guiding students through the process of selecting classes that would enable them to succeed in their chosen pathway.

The study also suggested that students’ low grades added to the problem. Any student who completes a program but has earned less than a 2.5 grade average is not likely to be accepted by a college or a place of training for a good career.

Nevertheless, I am not convinced that choosing the “wrong classes” or not enough of the right ones should make students failures. As I see things, the real problem is a dis-connect between the goals set by education policy makers and the pathways mandated for reaching them. At high schools in most states today, to be “college ready“ students must take four years of English; three years each of math, science, and social studies; and two years of a foreign language. In some states students preparing for careers after high school must follow the same path, while in others they take fewer years of math, science, and a foreign language, plus three one-year courses in a particular career field.

During the past century those pathways might have been reasonable because, for the most part, only the wealthy and brightest students went on to college, while the others took typing or mechanics classes or left school altogether without graduating. Today, however, there is a much wider range of professions available to college graduates, and more middle class and impoverished young people going on to college. The range of jobs that don’t require a college degree is also wider and more varied.

To serve the needs of all student I think high schools need to be more flexible, cutting back on the number and type of required courses and providing a wider range of electives for students to explore future career possibilities. I also think school districts should have more high schools that offer a particular type of career preparation.

Specifically, I would reduce the number of college prep courses required, so that students could explore more areas through electives. I would also not require so much math and science for all college-bound students, or the study of a foreign language for everyone.

For those students who want to be “career ready” upon graduation I see two good pathways: attending a high school that focuses on a particular type of training or trying out a range of courses at a general high school. Choosing a particular field of study at the beginning of high school is appropriate only for those students who have a clear idea of what they want to do in the future.

Furthermore, I see advantages in using middle school as the place for many students to find out what they want to do in the future. During those three years there should be time set aside to introduce students to college life and the realities of different types of jobs through videos, guest speakers, books, newspaper and magazine articles, and field trips. Remember that the students I have been talking about all this time are only 14 years old when they enter high school. Without some background knowledge, experience in the world, and the chance to explore alternative paths, they are not ready to make a firm decision about what they will do for the next four years of schooling or the rest of their lives.





3 responses to “Are High School Requirments Really Fair to Students?

  1. Ann Berlak says:

    I’d like to reframe this blog response to the Education Week article. Evidently, the underlying assumption of the blog, and of The Education Trust is that the role of schooling is to produce college and career ready students. What happened to the notion that a fundamental role of schooling should be to produce informed and active citizens of a democracy, or to promote critical thinking, social justice and empowerment?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: