A recent article in Slate, aptly titled “Welcome to 13th Grade,” reports on an Oregon initiative to add a 13th year to the high school experience in order to help better prepare students for college. The program uses the state allowance of $6,500 per student to fund each participant, who exits the program with not only a high school diploma, but also with the option to enter college as sophomores. This may sound attractive and appropriate given the challenges with community college completion rates in Oregon and elsewhere, but there’s certainly a global perspective that needs to be examined here.
The timing of the article amused me, as I had just had two conversations, one with a high school senior and one with a university junior that led me to wonder about some of the issues surrounding the 13th-year plan, and specifically how much time we give our kids to prepare for college and the working world. The high-schooler was telling me that she planned to opt out of some AP exams and was willing to retake the subjects again in college if necessary. “Maybe I’ll get a better teacher. Maybe I’ll be able to understand it better.” The university student was experiencing challenges in time management given the workload implicit in a degree program requiring extensive reading assignments.
I actually even said to the high schooler “I know you wouldn’t want to have any more high school, but I wonder if you all actually have enough time . . .” Needless to say, I was cut short and left to ruminate on this paradox on my own. We’re working so hard to get our kids out of high school yet so many arrive at college unprepared for the rigor, the level of inquiry, and the day-to-day management of their lives? Some of these challenges are generations-old adjustments that are made throughout the college experience, as students mature with the curriculum. Others could probably be alleviated with additional support within the school environment, and many universities offer Bootcamp-like training or additional support for specific skills-building activities. But, if we look at the bigger picture and as we consider students preparing to enter the workforce and contribute to our ever-complex global economy, is more time in high school really the answer here?
The Oregon plan seems to be a band aid solution, representative of larger issues in PK-12 curriculum. The challenges are getting increasingly complex. How will we stem the tide of change as the world becomes ever more sophisticated? The concept of preparing students for jobs that don’t even yet exist, was stunningly presented by the Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod “Did You Know” presentation first in 2007, and has been rifted on by countless numbers of educators and pundits since. We don’t know what we don’t know, yet we need to keep preparing for it. The solution is not more years of high school, but more in-depth, inquiry-based, maker-driven, project-based, curricula that prepares this generation and succeeding ones how to problem solve rather than how to take exams that only teach them how to . . . take exams.
The expanding curriculum design that we are seeing across the country, greater access to online, personalized learning programs and the growing partnerships that are evolving to help enhance the educational experience within the schools is a great start to getting us closer to where we need to be. More practical, experiential learning experiences will go a huge way to bridging existing and future gaps. More practical internships earlier on in the PK-12 years will make an obvious impact as well.
A 13th year will undoubtedly help a number of students bridge the gap between what they have learned to date and what they need to properly function in the college environment, but we need to consider expanded and alternate approaches throughout the continuum of the educational experience to truly prepare people for an ever-changing workplace in the global economy.
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