Imagine new paths for grades 11-14

/ 25 June 2012 / jennifer

Star Tribune Editorial, June 25, 2012 –

State education leaders seek to blur high school/college line.


“There are too many ways that students don’t stay on track (in high school). … There are too many gaps in the system. We’re not aligning K-12 and higher education in the way that we’re going to have to in the 21st century. … A lot of states are doing some of these things. What’s exciting about what Minnesota is talking about is that this would be a holistic approach.”

-MARTHA KANTER, U.S. undersecretary of education, at a governor’s higher-education roundtable last week at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul.

Imagine an education system in which no learner between the ages of 16 and 20 is either bored or overwhelmed. Rather, each can pursue a tailor-made learning plan at his or her own pace.

Content is as unlimited as the Internet, and faculty members can serve as learning coaches and advisers as much as dispensers of knowledge. Each student’s learning is assessed regularly and adjusted as needed, so that each stays on track toward his or her postgraduation goals.

Imagine that the line between high school and college has been so blurred that students traverse it routinely, encouraged by a state funding mechanism and regulations that ease their way.

That’s the imagining that’s been going on in recent months in the minds of three key Minnesota education policymakers — state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Office of Higher Education director Larry Pogemiller, and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) chancellor Steven Rosenstone.

Last week, this troika took their thinking to the MnSCU Board of Trustees and, by extension, to all Minnesotans. While their ideas are still preliminary, they are not educational pie-in-the-sky.

They are a serious response to the central challenge facing Minnesota in the next two decades: how to build the state’s greatest asset, its human capital, as the population ages, diversifies and faces tougher global competition than ever before. They deserve similarly serious examination and discussion throughout the state.

In essence, Rosenstone, Pogemiller and Cassellius are proposing the redesign of what many are calling “grades 11-14.” They build on the 27-year-old Post Secondary Enrollment Option and college-in-high-school programs, including International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement.

Among the ideas:

• More opportunity to take college-level classes in high school settings, often by certifying high school faculty to teach college-level courses.

• Better alignment of high school graduation requirements with college admissions requirements.

• Earlier diagnoses and closure of learning gaps that would impede a student’s postsecondary progress. Currently, more than two of every five MnSCU students required to take remedial courses are newly minted high school graduates. Those students should not have to pay college tuition (and taxpayers should not have to pay subsidies) for no-credit remedial courses that they could take tuition-free in high school.

• More and earlier counseling of students and their parents about postsecondary education and career options.

Minnesota has long ranked poorly among states in the ratio of students per high school guidance counselor. Some will see this proposal as a backhanded call to beef up counselor ranks. But that’s not what’s intended, Pogemiller said. Rather, he anticipates that high school faculty members will play a student-adviser role similar to that performed by many college faculty members today.

That illustrates another feature of the proposal. While its costs have not been estimated, its proponents don’t expect the total cost to be more than the state spends now on education for 16- to 20-year-olds. In fact, it could be less. Too much of what taxpayers spend now on grades 11-14 is wasted on classes that hold back high achievers or that ill-serve students who need more help, they say.

“We think we can get more out of existing resources,” Rosenstone said. “This is about getting it done right the first time.”

This proposal rejects any thought that the state’s notoriously wide achievement gap between white and nonwhite students should be closed by weakening overall academic standards. To the contrary: It posits that standards should stay high or climb, and that the achievement gap can best be closed with stepped-up individual intervention.

It’s significant that this proposal arises in the wake of a series of discussions among educators and employers about how best to fill Minnesota’s pipeline of skilled workers. Closing the “skills gap” they identified will require getting more students in their late teens and more young adults across the educational finish line faster and better prepared for today’s jobs.

There’s a premium in store for Minnesota if it can pull that off — and trouble ahead if it cannot. Rosenstone, Cassellius and Pogemiller are raising the right issue, and their call for help in fleshing out the details of their proposal deserves heed.


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