Friday, May 6, 2016

What to do about High School?

As you can see from the graph above, education reform efforts over the past twenty years have raised test scores for elementary and middle school students. But not for high school students; whatever gains have been made in elementary school seem to disappear in high school.

I can't help but think that this has something to do with how many kids simply hate high school. My two older sons thought it was hell on earth; after the second one dropped out he told me he would rather go to prison than go back to school. My elder daughter on the other hand attended a high school of the arts in a special writing program that she loved, and she did very well.

Whether anything can be done to make high school less miserable for the mass of students is an interesting question. I have a feeling that the answer is no, at least in the current educational climate. After all, in countries like Japan and Korea where high school students seem to learn a lot, they hate it even more than Americans.

Of course that implies that teenagers can learn a lot even when they're miserable, but apparently American society just doesn't apply enough pressure to 16-year-olds to keep them slaving away at work they hate. I have long wondered whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly it is bad to make people miserable, but on the other hand if we let teenagers do whatever they wanted few would end up with the skills they need to get that all important office job.


pithom said...

People always hated HS. Why the huge divergence in the late 1990s-early 2000s is the bigger question.

kathy said...

Watching my daughter's experience at a "top 10 in the state" school system suggests that there's been a lot of change in the way that kids are taught through about 8th grade, and then in the high school - it's pretty much the same old approaches. Some are a bit different - the very advanced math that's offered, the enormous number of AP courses... but the experience of being in highs school doesn't seem much different - perhaps with the addition of an incredible pressure to start planning your college application process in 9th grade. In 7th and 8th grade the kids could bring and use devices in class. In high school - it was right back to "no cell phones or tablets."

Anonymous said...

I confess it escapes me how allowing cell phones and tablets in class would be an educational improvement.

G. Verloren said...

"After all, in countries like Japan and Korea where high school students seem to learn a lot, they hate it even more than Americans."

I must confess, I've never heard anything regarding a general dislike of high school in Korea and Japan. I do know that there is a huge cultural association in both countries with stress and cramming for exams, because the requirements to get into colleges are pretty stringent, but I've never come across even a hint of the general loathing of the entire system that is prevalent among American youths.

szopen said...

Or, it may mean that whatever gains are made in earlier stages of education, involve non-transferrable skills.

leif said...

I remember being told in junior high as part of a bullying regime, that 1) I should score lower to bring the curve down, 2) if you're so smart, why are you pinned against your locker, 3) you're the teacher's pet because you speak up in class. I roundly ignored those, but others subject to the same pressures didn't.