Missing the point ...

Last Saturday's Education IT article (High schools of the future: small, focused and wired.) reports on a growing awareness that our high schools are falling short in preparing our students.
Written by Marc Wagner, Contributor

Last Saturday's Education IT article (High schools of the future: small, focused and wired.) reports on a growing awareness that our high schools are falling short in preparing our students.  Well, it is about time that someone noticed! 

Just the same, I see contradictions in both the article and the original piece from the Arizona Republic.  The title of the of the original article is "Tomorrow's high schools likely to resemble today's colleges" but then, in referring to the high school campuses of tomorrow, the article states:

"Gone may be the large campuses teeming with kids and the classmates of similar age on similar schedules that have them all graduating together."

Huh?  This description may very well reflect the character of today's big-city high schools as well as most rural 'consolidated' schools but it also reflects the state of most universities.  (The comics coined the phrase "Enormous State University" for a reason.)  The only "small, focused" colleges of which I am aware are exclusive private institutions serving mostly the needs of the privileged few among us.  And few of these schools are as "wired" or tech savvy as  their large state university counterparts.

I would be among the first to acknowledge that our high schools  and our colleges are too large and too impersonal -- as are most of our cities.   Gone are the days of the small thriving community where neighbors watch out for each others kids.  A return to the days of small class size and engaged parents would be a welcome change to many of us but I am trouble that this new model ...

"... focuses on small, specialized high schools, bringing back high school career tracks by having students declare majors as early as eight grade ..."

 I wonder how many readers of this post are working in the field they majored in as an undergraduate in college, or even how many earned a degree in the same field they chose as a freshman in college.  Now we want them to choose their career path as freshmen in high school?

To be sure, the business community does see the decline in the quality of secondary education as a crisis.  It is a crisis!  But I don't believe we see the same crisis looming.  They see a crisis because of the reduced availability of workers with basic skills.  Put simply, the business community recognizes that college graduates cost more to employ. 

The crisis that I see in our high schools is not the product of class size, or poor quality educators, or even lack of focus.  The crisis we face today is complex and multidimensional but it is rooted in the growing gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'.  Returning to the days of inner city "vocational technical high schools" and suburban "college prep" schools will not address that problem -- it will only exacerbate the inequities that already exist.

To be sure, America's high schools are severely underfunded -- and what funding there is remains inequitable in its distribution.  Initiatives for high-speed Internet fall on deaf ears when the schools cannot find the money to heat the building or hire and train educators.  Accepting corporate money often means accepting corporate initiatives for how that money is to be spent.  Sadly state legislatures have lost sight of the overriding value of public funding and instead, overtly seek those corporate dollars with little regard for the impact to communities who don't have the benefit of that private funding. 

Corporate entities interested in 'focused' education seek only to train students in the skills they seek in potential employees.  Certainly not all such entities are so narrowly focused but educators and parents should be more concerned with graduating students who are not only equipped with basic skills but are also well-rounded and engaged in learning --  be it learning a trade, learning a profession, or learning for learning's sake, whether in an academic setting or not. 

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