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.