America's high school students need to prepare for a society that does not yet exist, according to staff members who gave a presentation to the Cherokee School Board on Monday evening.
"It is impossible to teach students everything they will need to know. We need to teach them the skills to learn," Larry Hunecke, Washington High School principal, told the gathering.
The program on Monday to explore high school reform initiatives was presented by John Chalstrom, superintendent; Linda Abbott, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment and Hunecke.
The reason high school curriculum is being explored is that student achievement nationwide has pleateaued over the past 20 years while there is an increased requirement of sophistication in the workforce. Statistics indicate that only about 50 percent of students graduated from high school in 1950 but graduates found productive jobs.
Now about 83 percent graduate from high school (rising to about 88 percent when extended a few years beyond normal graduation time). Only about 28 percent get an associate degree within three years or a bachelors degree within six years. The essential problem is that two years of postsecondary education has become the minimum if young people are to enter jobs that pay enough to sustain a family.
"In India, there are 300 million college educated people, more college educated people than there are total people in the U.S.," Chalstrom noted. He added that many students in this country are not going to college academically prepared.
Hunecke said that it is not necessarily a matter of just piling on more homework to increase the rigor of what is studied but a need to change the type of homework given. "We need to go past just spouting facts and figures and go to adapting to completely new applications," he said.
Hunecke said that requiring students to answer true/false or multiple choice questions is the easist way to test but that is not necessarily the best way to challenge students. Hunecke cited an example of a question on a Civil War Unit as a better model. The question "Could it happen today?" (referring to the possibility of a Civil War in modern times) requires high level thinking skills and the application of knowledge in a relevant way.
There is a statewide push to have all students take the core curriculum recommended for university bound students as a requirement for graduation. In the Cherokee District, this would increase the math requirement by two semesters and the science requirement by two semesters.
There were some mixed feelings expressed at the meeting on the effects of such a change, which is eventually expected to become mandatory throughout the state.
Adding the sections necessary for math and science would mean a reduction of other options. Requiring a third year of math and/or science could increase the frustration level, possibly even the dropout rate, for certain students, particularly if there are mandates requiring the taking of third year math and science classes designed for university bound students.
Currently, many subject areas are taught to special education students by teachers who are not specifically certified in the subject area. This is also true for the alternative schools that provide high school education for students who have dropped out. Future rules may prohibit this.
Chalstrom said the Cherokee District is doing some positive things. The district is exploring increased rigor in its offerings. Students are increasingly using rigorous offerings that provide college credit while in high school
"In our country, we educate everybody. The level of education that we give to students with special needs is unheard of in other countries," Chalstrom said.