Monday, March 31, 2014

The Changing Nature of High School

A number of recent articles on how high school education is changing seem to all respond to the same set of observations: too many students graduate from high school unprepared for college or the workplace, and the current national economy is less than hospitable to these high school graduates.

Several innovations -- both locally and nationally -- are attempting to address this situation. Here in New York, a new diploma credential, designed for regular and special education students who will be graduating with a Regents (academic) or local diploma,  is the Career and Technical Education Endorsement. As described by the New York State Department of Education, this credential requires coursework that combines career and technical education, as well as academic components, and may be jointly developed and taught by an academic subject teacher and/or a career and technical education teacher. It also requires that the student satisfactorily complete a "technical assessment." This assessment can be developed by a particular industry (such as the exam necessary for a student to obtain certification as an Emergency Medical Technician) or, if no specific assessment is available, can be developed by the school district in conjunction with local businesses or professional organizations. Such an assessment should include: written examination(s), student project(s) and student demonstration(s) of technical skills to measure proficiency.

Another approach to integrating high school academics and career readiness is happening in several communities on Long Island, where school  districts are setting up technical and career programs in individual schools, rather than send their students out to a regional program at a BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which serves a number of regional school districts) campus. There are both budgetary and practical reasons for this trend. As noted in Newsday, reduced State funding to BOCES has increased districts' costs of participation and some districts find it cheaper to keep their students in their own building. In addition, integrating technical and career training with academics is easier when all courses take place in the same building.

On a national level, there is a program known as P-Tech - Pathways in Technology Early College High School, originally developed by IBM to provide a strong education in STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, and math) to students in inner city schools. These students graduate from high school in six years, instead of four, and emerge with both a high school diploma and a two year associate's degree, as well as the promise of a good-paying job. There is an excellent description of these programs and the positive impact they are having on their students (called "innovators" at some schools) in Time magazine, which is also available in a printer-friendly version.

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