High School graduation requirements should be worked out at the school level by faculty and approved by parents and supervising boards, accepted by students who come to the school (who – one hopes! – have some choice in what school they attend), and which lay out the knowledge which a young person needs to be considered an effective adult. These requirements will not consist only of long-ago earned Carnegie units and/or test scores, but will be based on a system of promotion by performance and by portfolio during the junior high school and high school years. Although most students will complete the faculty’s expectations by the time they are about eighteen, others will move through the program more or less quickly. The “fixed” will be the basic proficiency standards; the “variables” will be the time it takes to achieve them, and the ways in which these aptitudes are displayed. Breadth in the curriculum will also vary according to the student. Senior year will be dominated by a rigorous senior seminar, which will include a substantial senior project, possibly including an internship, and which will lead to a Graduation Exhibition which can be described and explained to all interested parties.
A new kind of transcript will need to be developed to describe the student’s progress throughout high school, especially during the senior year. If we are going to ask potential employers and college admissions officers to take high school transcripts seriously, we will have to make sure we are writing in a language which we both understand.
College and work entry requirements should be made clearer. In the case of college, they should be worked out by college faculties and accepted by supervisory boards and clients of the institution (students, their parents, and others who help to pay the costs of college) which lay out the knowledge which a young person needs to be able to do the entry-level work in that institution.
A second transcript (or a second part of the transcript) will need to be developed collaboratively by college and high school teachers, to make it possible for some high school graduates to go right on to college. College entry will not be an “automatic admit” for those who have completed high school. Those who are deemed not ready to do entry-level work in the college they wish to attend will need to be told relatively early exactly what their deficiencies are and will need to be given help, including new kinds of teaching, to enable them to achieve the desired results. If this help is offered and taken advantage of during the senior year in high school, it will surely remove the “permission to coast” which so many seniors have assumed.
When a student is told that, at the moment, he/she cannot do entry-level work in either college or a specific part of the workplace, there need to be several forms of “remediation” available. When the problem is low ability, extensive work with counselors should help the student decide what the areas are in which he/ she has more proficiency and promise, and what kind of training would be most appropriate to pursue that future. When the problem is poor prior training, it can be made up, but adequate time must be set aside to do so. Other plans for the student’s time – other courses, work, sports – must be given up, at least if the student plans to keep to a specific timetable. This is not a trivial problem and cannot be handled by a short course.
When the problem is motivation, it should be identified, accepted and tackled by a combination of counselors and teachers. (It is not necessarily a teacher’s “fault” that a student doesn’t work in his class. At the same time, the teacher needs to appreciate the reasons why a student may not be motivated if a real connection is to be made.) When the problem is maturity, it should be dealt with by keeping college preparation programs open for older ages, perhaps in the high school at night.
In many individuals, all four of these factors are what cause the need for remediation. This is why there is no single, efficient – and certainly no cheap – solution. The best job of helping such students will be done by an ongoing policy of promotion by performance that has led to at least some self-knowledge all along, and by self-respecting teachers in schools that have kept their teachers’ load low enough so that they can really know their students. These teachers are most likely to be able to work with students to analyze the problem and determine what the best course of action will be.
College graduation requirements should be publicized to demonstrate the further knowledge that a person needs to achieve beyond the entry-level. These should stress readiness to do sustained, complex and difficult work, so that the student considering the college will know what attitudes as well as knowledge will need to be acquired and then enlarged upon in college. Emphasis should be on the fact that choosing college is fundamentally choosing a different kind of present and future work. Too often, college is seen as a kind of moratorium, which clearly affects both it and the high school senior year.
It is perhaps naive to insist that every eighteen year old is ready, emotionally or intellectually, to do sustained, complex and difficult work. Some can; some can’t – yet. However, high school seniors need to see beyond the minimum entry requirements of college, to be able to imagine the hurdles ahead, both in the upper levels of college and in the workplace. These hurdles are largely ones of integrity, persistence and a sense of personal responsibility. Ways of measuring these qualities have not been developed with any kind of scientific precision, and perhaps that’s good, since so many students improve in these respects during their early adulthood.
Still, high school teachers who have been able to get to know their students have hunches about these qualities. Progress reports written by teachers and counselors all through high school can increasingly refer to these qualities as they develop, so that students and parents are reminded of their importance. During senior year, those who write recommendations for college and the workplace are frequently asked about their impression of the students as potential workers and citizens; they may also be encouraged to cite the evidence behind these impressions, in order to draw a more compelling portrait of the candidate. These recommendations are already part of our communication process, but they need to be taken more seriously by both sides.