Bob Herbert has another woe are our schools piece in the Times today. In it he decries the performance of our high schools -- particularly our low graduation rates. He argues that we need to intervene in order to ensure that our high schools are on par with the rest of the world's. The most interesting statistic he cites (and I'd like to see the source for this) is that the U.S. ranked second in the world in four-year college graduation rate in 1995 while we now rank 15th.
I buy the premise of the op-ed: too many students are leaving our schools unprepared for college and/or the workforce, and change is needed. But I have on question: is high school too late?
In other words, are high schools really creating the problems, or are they just where we're noticing them. High school teachers I've talked with tell me that students come to school woefully underprepared and far behind in their abilities. In these cases, is high school really the right point of intervention?
I'm under the impression that most problems take root much earlier than high school. For example: one research article found that, in Baltimore, each absence in first grade was related to an increased likelihood of about 5% that the student would drop out of high school. Does this mean that intervening in first grade might be more fruitful than intervening in high school?
High school is way too late. I try to teach ninth graders and it is tragic how many cannot read or write or do math at a ninth grade level.
It would be great if every one of them said, "Gee, I better work hard to bring my skills up to a high school level." But rather the opposite usually happens. The students try less hard, do poorly, and eventually drop out, or graduate with Cs and Ds and an inability to start college without remedial programs.
Even when a ninth grader wants to get up to speed, there is often so much ground to make up that there just isn't the time or the teachers available to help him do it.
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