By Ted A. Wright
August 05, 2005
I would start that discussion by suggesting that meaningful school reform, and in fact any kind of positive social change, comes from the community and not from the insitutions that have evolved over time to serve it. In other words, public institutions change in response to public demand, and the more demand the more they change. Most public high schools could do for a great deal of change.
Bill gates recently told 45 of the 50 US governors that, "America's high schools are obsolete. By obsolete, I don't just mean that they're broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools _ even when they're working as designed _ cannot teach all our students what they need to know today."
As much as we would like to ignore this reality, it won't go away. School administrators and teachers are working their butts off to graduate as many kids as possible and prepare as many as they can for college or a vocational/technical career. The problem is that many students come to school unprepared and unmotivated. And even those that leave middle school ready to succeed run smack into a variety of barriers in high school and become lost in the system.
Throwing money at the problem will actually help, but it isn't the fix that's needed.
Students do pretty well through about grade five or six, then many, especially minority and low-income students, begin an accelerating decline between grades seven and ten. If they are still in school by 10th grade they have a chance. But too many are gone by the time they should enter their junior or senior year of high school. Few of the survivors are prepared for or see themselves as college students.
One of the best solutions out there now is to develop schools and educational systems that offer a seamless transition from middle school through high school and college. These dual enrollment programs are catching on in almost every state and have been lauded as at least a part of the solution reformers seek. Piedad Robertson, the president of the Education Commission of the States recently wrote in Education Week that Early College and other dual enrollment programs "may well be the most significant education reform since the rise of community colleges in the latter half of the 20th century."
I have to admit my bias here; I'm the director of the Early College Consortium for Native Youth, a Bill & Melinda Gates funded initiative through Antioch University Seattle. Still, I believe Ketchikan would do well to examine a seamless transition approach and eliminate as many barriers to college as possible. Juneau is on the verge of taking a giant step in that direction. Ketchikan's students deserve the same oppoortunity.
Good luck Mr. Thomas. I wish you and those who join you all the best.
Ted A. Wright
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