Monday, October 20, 2008

Two-Track Curriculum for Louisiana High Schools: Lowering Expectations?

The Baton Rouge newspaper, The Advocate, recently ran an article outlining briefly a proposal by some of Louisiana's leaders to create a two-track high school curriculum in Louisiana's public high schools. The article lacks specifics but the message of the article is clear: some of Louisiana's policymakers are developing a plan to address the high dropout rate (about 18,000 Louisiana public school students each year out of almost 200,000 public school students) and the plan centers on an alternate second track curriculum for high school students.

Proponents of a two-track system blame the "college-prep" curriculum, and its irrelevance for students not planning to attend college, for the high dropout rate. Rather than ask the question of "Where, during the first ten years of a student's education, has the system failed the student?" and then formulate a strategy to correct the problem, it seems some policymakers want to take a different approach. For these policymakers, the correct way to address and solve the problem includes offering a second non-college-prep curriculum aimed at preparing students for the workforce. If it sounds like a good idea, I offer the following for consideration:
  • $12-20 per hour may be great money for an 18-year old with a high school degree. What does that student's wage look like ten years later?
  • How does a second-track curriculum graduate ever move into management with only a high school degree and without reading, writing and math skills of those who graduated with a college-prep curriculum and, probably, a college degree, too?
  • If a second-track curriculum graduate decides to go back to school at some point in the future for a college degree, has that grad ever taken the ACT or SAT? Probably not if he or she went through a state-endorsed program encouraging students not to consider college as an option. How does that grad even begin to study for a college entrance exam without foundations in algebra, geometry, etc.?
  • If a second-track graduate enters college, how far behind his classmates will he be without the college-prep background?
  • How many students would actually stay in school for such a curriculum? How many college-prep and college-bound students would opt for the easier high school track?
  • Will second tracks be offered on current campuses or on separate campuses for non-college-bound students only?
  • Is a tenth grader really ready to make such a life-altering decision as choosing a high school curriculum to prepare him for a life with no college education?

Do I believe every high school student is college material? Maybe not. Do I believe a person can make a nice life for himself with no college education? Yes, I believe a few can but only a few. Entering the real world today armed with only a high school diploma, especially a non-college-prep diploma, is not a recipe for lifelong success.

Rather than create a second track and endorse not considering college, why not offer students options like these, which could still be challenging courses, while encouraging them to attend a technical college upon graduation (course options could be limitless; this is a quick list):

  • Algebra I, Geometry, Consumer Math, Business Math or Intro to Accounting
  • English I, English II, English III, Business Composition
  • Biology I, Chemistry I, Environmental Science, Conceptual Physics, Agriculture, Pre-Engineering
  • World History, US History, Government & Economics, Current Events, Business Law
  • Art, Music, Graphic Design, Computer-Aided Drafting, Computer Literacy (Office Suite Training), Computer Programming

An easier curriculum may or may not entice students to stay in school in Louisiana. An easier curriculum certainly won't prepare students for success after high school.

Louisiana did a good thing recently by requiring high school students to take four maths, a quantifiable attempt to raise standards statewide. Louisiana should not take a step backward now.

Blaming the college-prep track for the dropout rate rather than actually looking for the root of the problem is short-sighted and not at all creative. While it is true the traditional curriculum reflects needs of generations past, the current college-prep curriculum is not so problematic that it is chasing away at-risk kids at an alarming rate.

Evidence seems to indicate some policymakers would rather take the easy way out rather than fight the tough fight. Louisiana's leaders must understand that students will rise to expectations. Lowering expectations for Louisiana's students is no way to move Louisiana forward. Students not ready for LSU, Louisiana Tech or other traditional colleges and universities should be directed to technical colleges and community colleges. Sixteen year old students should not be given the option of choosing a state-endorsed plan that gives them an easier-than-college-prep curriculum and no incentive to continue their education after high school.


Jim Brown said...

Its interesting that Louisianna id considering a move like this. After being in public education for 12 years I've seen many of the problems that come with appathy and a lack of motivation. Sometimes we are lucky if a kid will get a GED and not just drop out. I know that we hear alot about this type of plan from Europe where students can start in a vocational plan that will qualify them to work right out of high school and many of the people I have talked to seem to like it. They can get right in to a skilled crafts position right away andstart making good money. Yes their income level potential may be limited I agree.
One problem that I think might arise is if too many minority students enter the vocational track. People may argrue that minority students are being pushed to take this route that some would say is short sighted. I'll be interested to see what comes of it.
I know that there are lots of jobs out there in industry that could use some qualified applicants. Trade skills can be a good route for many students.
Just another question - As a nation are we pricing ourselves out of business by not allowing our studnets to go this route? We import labor now to do construction and manual labor. Could this be a solution? We often hear of making education relevant to students. By focusing on job skills would we be achieving that?

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