COMMENTARY | On Friday president Barack Obama visited a high school in New York City that is part of a small but potentially explosive trend: A six-year high school plan that adds an associate’s degree atop a traditional high school diploma. The Pathways in Technology Early College High School campus in Crown Heights, colloquially known as P-Tech, allows high school students to earn college credits and better prepare for middle-class jobs, reports WNYC. Rana Foroohar of TIME lauds the six-year high school plan as a way to help America reverse its relative education decline compared to other industrialized nations, claiming that independent community colleges do not graduate enough students in appropriate fields.
Adding community college instruction to traditional four-year high schools is an intriguing proposal.
Foroohar is correct in acknowledging that independent community colleges often fail to produce sufficient career-ready graduates. But would moving these classes onto high school campuses, and essentially extending high school to the 14th grade, be any better? I worry that any such program would be doomed to failure without careful planning and rigid enforcement of guidelines.
First of all, how would you deal with students after age 18 who are into their “college” years of the six-year high school plan? High schools have developed to handle the different needs of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. What about two new grades of “super-seniors”? Would 13th and 14th grade students be genuine adults, or would they be treated like 18-year-old 12th graders? Many 19- and 20-year-old high school students would chafe at their extended juvenile status and perhaps create slews of disciplinary and truancy problems.
Would a six-year high school be able and willing to enforce strict discipline and attendance rules for “super-seniors”? Would the courts allow 19- and 20-year-old students at six-year high schools to be denied some of the adult freedoms afforded similarly-aged students at independent colleges and universities? And what would be the maximum age limit to graduate from a six-year high school? If there are already fifth-year seniors at four-year high schools, would six-year high schools have to allow seven, or even eight, years?
And what of existing community colleges? Though I agree that K-12ing community college curricula would save municipalities money and potentially improve graduation rates, there will undoubtedly be tremendous opposition to six-year high schools from colleges and universities. While many cities and towns without existing community colleges could add two grades onto high schools without much fuss, what about cities and towns where the community colleges put up a fight?
Many colleges would bemoan the loss of students and many community college instructors would be forced to take jobs at the six-year high schools. Would they be considered transfer employees or would they have to start fresh at lower salaries? Would a Master’s degree be required to teach 13th and 14th grade classes? What would happen to concurrent enrollment or dual credit classes? Would such classes cease to exist, no longer needed now that high school includes community college?
The six-year high school is an intriguing and potentially invaluable idea, but one that needs lots of time on the drawing board. I worry that early champions of the idea have not thought out most of the inevitable kinks.