Education Issues in High School
Most of the efforts of the Illinois Loop are focused upon K-8 schools. But many of the same bogus theories
and dubious methods that dominate in grade school are found in high school as well.
But high schools do not carry the full blame for educational failure. They cannot be held responsible
for correcting all the problems of grade school. Despite this, high schools are exactly where
some politicians are pointing fingers.
High Schools and Their Ill-Prepared Graduates
But ... Are High Schools to Blame?
"What do they do in the grammar schools?|
These kids can't put a sentence together."
-- an English teacher at Chicago's Roosevelt High School
Need a Middle School Education? Go to College
by Terrence Moore, Ph.D., March 2004.
"Consider the armed forces. In any given action the military is held
accountable to the mission. Military troops are made ready for the
mission through constant training. The initial training a marine,
soldier, sailor, or airman goes through is called 'basic training' or
'boot camp.' If this training is inferior, the whole system of
military readiness crumbles. Can you imagine a U.S. Marine Corps boot
camp that did not train recruits to march, to salute, to fire weapons
and throw grenades, to read a map and compass, and to render first
aid to a fallen comrade? ... Yet the failure to train our young
people for the battles of life, battles they will face first in
college and later on in the corporate world or in public service, has
The Education of William Gates
by Andrew Wolf, June 23, 2006.
"By the time students
reach high school, it is too late to make things right. Students fail
in high school because they lack the academic basics."
"While the [Gates] foundation spends billions around the world
promoting a variety of health initiatives, it is his effort to
'reform' America's high schools that has attracted the most
attention. So it isn't surprising that Business Week devoted its
cover story this week to what is increasingly being perceived as a
faltering effort. ...
"One essential point missed by Mr. Gates is that by the time students
reach high school, it is too late to make things right. Students fail
in high school because they lack the academic basics they need in
order to do high school level work. There is a huge drop off in
performance, nationwide, between fourth and eighth grade. This is the
reason for the high school crisis. By the time Mr. Gates comes around
with his medicine, the cow has long left the barn. ...
"At the center of Mr. Gates's problems was his reliance on the
establishment of school 'reformers.' What he didn't grasp is that it
is the reformers who are the status quo in public education. They are
the problem, not the solution. The core problems will not be solved
by those who thrive on perpetual 'reform,' efforts that after a while
exist only to maintain themselves.
"As the Microsoft mogul heads into the 'semi-retirement' he announced
last week, he would be well advised to take a close look at just
where his money is going and seek out advice from those who haven't
already failed at fixing our schools."
- In reaction to public statements by Bill Gates on the "need" to focus
on high schools for reform, one Looper comments,
"I think Gates' comments are a typical Microsoft misdiagnosis of the problem --
fixing the symptoms of the problem and not the root cause."
- It would have been hard to miss the flurry of news reports in March 2005
after Bill Gates lambasted America's high schools.
But eminent education historian Diane Ravitch (who had dinner with our Illinois Loop
group a few years ago) begs to differ:
Failing the Wrong Grades
by Diane Ravitch, New York Times, Op-Ed, March 15, 2005. Excerpts:
"Everybody who is anybody seems to have decided that the American
high school is responsible for the failings of American students. ...
Let's slow down here. American education is famous for inspiring
crusades, and the history of the 20th century is littered with the
remains of of failed reform movements. This 21st century campaign
will fall flat, too, unless the proponents are clear-headed about the
nature of the problem and willing to rethink their proposed
solutions. ... To understand why, you have to consider what the high
schools are dealing with. When American students arrive as freshmen,
nearly 70 percent are reading below grade level. Equally large
numbers are ill prepared in mathematics, science and history.
It is hardly fair to blame high schools for the poor skills of their
entering students. If students start high school without the basic
skills needed to read, write and solve mathematics problems, then the
governors should focus on strengthening the standards of their
states' junior high schools."
- The same applies at the college level: It makes no sense to try to
artificially "fix" the situation in colleges when the real problem
is the failure of K-12. For more, see:
Colleges Try to Cope With The Failures of K-12.
How Can Educators Stop Teens From Bailing Out On High School? Boost The Performance Of Dismal Middle Schools
by Lance T. Izumi, director of education studies, Pacific Research Institute, June 10, 2006.
"A University of Chicago study says that improvements in high school graduation
rates may occur if students leave elementary school better prepared academically. ...
To improve middle school and reduce high school dropout rates, policymakers
should examine successful middle-school models, especially [among] charter schools."
- Education reformer Richard G. Innes writes,
"If Mr. Gates were to look at the grades where most high school dropouts occur, he probably would find the
situation in Kentucky, for which I have excellent data, is replicated
everywhere. Most Kentucky public school dropouts occur in the 9th grade.
These students enter high school ill-prepared and never get beyond the
first year. That offers strong evidence that the problem lies in lower
grades. This isn't a high school phenomenon.
I get the uneasy feeling that trying to 'fix' high schools may really be
all about creating a new, watered down curriculum that will simply cover up
the failures at the lower grades."
Course Title Inflation
- Excerpt from a story in the Washington Post, March 5, 2007, reporting
on a study of academic progress:
"Experts also point out that the study based its definition of course
rigor on titles and descriptions, not necessarily on the delivered
content. Known as course-title inflation, that means a class might be
called calculus but really teach only algebra. Experts say minority
students are often disproportionately affected by such inflation.
'You see all the time that courses are being dumbed down even if they
have tough-sounding titles,' said Erich Martel, a history teacher at
Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in the District."
In Many Classrooms, 'Honors' in Name Only:
As High Schools Offer More Advanced Courses, Educators Fear Content Doesn't Always Earn the Label
by Jay Mathews, Washington Post, September 19, 2006.
"In an American education system full of plans for better high
schools, more and more courses have impressive labels, such as
'honors,' 'advanced,' 'college prep' and 'Advanced Placement.' But
many researchers and educators say the teaching often does not match
"'A company selling an orange-colored beverage under the label 'orange
juice' can get in legal trouble if the beverage contains little or no
actual juice,' said a February report from the National Center for
Educational Accountability, based in Austin. 'But there are no
consequences for giving credit for Algebra 2 to students who have
learned little algebra.'
"Grade inflation is a well-known issue. Many critics of public schools
contend that students nowadays get better grades for less achievement
than they used to. Experts also worry about courses that promise
mastery in a subject but fail to follow through. Call it course-label
"U.S. Education Department senior researcher Clifford Adelman ... said some high school transcripts
apply the label 'pre-calculus' to any math course before calculus.
Some students who had taken 'pre-calculus,' according to the
transcripts he inspected, had skills so rudimentary that they were
forced to take basic algebra in their first year of college.
... Michael Goldstein, founder of the MATCH Charter Public School in
Boston, described the sort of dialogue that often produces courses
that don't keep their promises in other schools:
'The principal tells the teacher, 'You're teaching algebra 2.'
The teacher responds, 'But our tests show these kids haven't mastered
one-fourth plus one-half, let alone algebra 1.' The principal
responds, 'Well, we need to offer them algebra 2 because it helps on
their college transcripts.''"
Test Scores at Odds With Rising High School Grades
by Amit R. Paley Washington Post, February 23, 2007.
"High school seniors are performing worse overall on some
national tests than they did in the previous decade, even though they
are receiving significantly higher grades and taking what
seem to be more rigorous courses, according to government data
released yesterday. ... 'We have our work cut out for us,' Education
Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a statement. 'If, in fact, our
high school students are taking more challenging courses and earning
higher grades, we should be seeing greater gains in test scores.' ...
'The core problem is that course titles don't really signal what is
taught in the course and grades don't signal what a kid has learned,'
said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a D.C.-based
nonprofit group that supports No Child Left Behind.
... The potential for grade and course-title inflation is not
confined to low-performing schools. Julie Greenberg, a math teacher
at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, said she was under
such pressure to raise grades that she used to keep two sets of books
in her statistics class: one for the grades students deserved and one
for the grades that appeared on report cards.
'If a teacher were to really grade students on their true level of
mastery, there would be such extraordinary levels of failure that it
would not be tolerated, so most teachers don't do that,' she said."
Academics in High School
- A memorable sketch from Saturday Night Live, October 17, 1987, Steve Martin hosts a game show, "Common Knowledge"
(transcript is available
The Myth of High-Stakes Testing
by RiShawn Biddle, December 18, 2007.
"For teachers unions and suburban school districts, the tests threaten
to reduce their influence over school curricula and subject them to
the kind of objective performance measurements that they loathe.
So the teachers and bureaucrats are making hay over the supposedly
dire consequences students face if they don't pass. Their sob story
goes, in this new era of high-stakes testing, kids, especially those
suffering from learning disabilities such as autism, will either
eventually drop out of school or be "pushed out" by school districts
attempting to game the system.
In reality, the problem slices the other way. States with exit exams
make it too easy for students to graduate without passing the tests.
Just eight of the 26 states currently offering or rolling out exit
exams require students to actually pass the tests in order to
graduate, according to a report released last month by the Center on
Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based centrist think tank."
Students Say High Schools Let Them Down
by Michael Janofsky, New York Times, July 16, 2005
"A large majority of high school students say their class work is not very difficult,
and almost two-thirds say they would work harder if courses were more demanding or
interesting, according to an online nationwide survey of teenagers conducted by the National Governors Association."
Edupundit Myopia by Will Fitzhugh, April 26, 2007.
"Edupundits have chosen very complex subject matter for their
investigations and reports [but] practically all of them fail to give any attention to the
basic purpose of schools, which is to have students do academic work.
Almost none of them seems inclined to look past the teacher to see if
the students are, for instance, reading any nonfiction books or
writing any term papers. ...
"Of course there are exceptions, students whose teachers demand that
they read history books and write research papers, and there are
students who do that on their own, in independent studies, partly
because they have become aware that they must meet more rigorous
academic demands down the road, and they are determined to get
But far too many of our high school students are waiting for someone
else to set demanding academic standards, and when they don't, the
students accept that, and get jobs, play sports, lead an active
social life, spend hours a day on video games, and so forth. But
after they slide through high school and emerge, they are mightily
sorry they were not asked to do more and held to a higher standard
for their own academic work."
Recommendations for Reforming the American High School:
A Memorandum to the Governors of the Fifty States from the K-12 Committee of the National Association of Scholars
(PDF) drafted by Sandra Stotsky, R. James Milgram, and Elizabeth Carson.
Advanced Placement (AP)
- ALARMING NEWS:
In May 2005, the College Board, which sets standards for Advanced Placements classes,
announced plans to "address the concern that AP courses require too much content coverage"
by hiring education "experts" to apply "best practices" to AP design.
We will add more information here as this startling story develops.
Hillsdale Academy Reference Guide: High School
The fiercely independent
of Michigan also has a
K-12 academy that emphasizes
very rich content taught using teacher-led, research-based methods.
In some respects, the curriculum at Hillsdale is even more structured
and more detailed than that of Core Knowledge. A key difference between
the Hillsdale approach and Core Knowledge seems to be that Core Knowledge specifies
content and allows teachers to use the methods that they find
most effective for their classes and their own teaching styles.
A terrific treasure at the Hillsdale website is the complete
Hillsdale Academy Reference Guide which is be
a wonderful resource for anyone planning or supplementing
a K-8 or high school 9-12 curriculum. The guide includes detailed curriculum
standards by grade and subject, with extensive reading lists and resources.
High School Rankings
Advanced Placement for All: The simple-minded logic of Newsweek's high-school rankings
by David Skinner, Weekly Standard, June 6, 2005.
This article starts off sounding like it's going to come down hard on
Newsweek for Jay Mathews' infamous ranking of high schools by the single criterion of the
percent of students taking AP classes, quoting a respected expert,
"Any ranking system worth anything at all must have at its core student learning. And this one does not."
But by the end, the article
has several cautiously positive things to say about the ranking.
They report, you decide!
High Schools and College Admission