Guest blogger, Colleen Young, Administrator, Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways, joins us today.
The “one-size-fits-all” education system is tearing our secondary student body apart. Granted, for some students the academic route is working, but for an increasing number of students in the English speaking countries, senior school students are becoming bored with the curriculum on offer, experiencing little educational success and they are very likely to fail within the current system. Educational policy-makers are constantly searching for answers.
Recently I visited two Early College High Schools in the United States. This is a new form of schooling founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aimed at improving student success for minority students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. It was refreshing to see re-engaged students who knew their future career pathways and how they were going to get there. In one of the schools, two Grade 10 (Year 11) students took me on tour. They were so proud of their school. They loved their integrated secondary/postsecondary programme and when they introduced me to their teachers; it was obvious that they had formed quality relationships with them. So, what did these schools have in common and why were both schools achieving such excellent educational outcomes for the students?
For a start, like the Tertiary High School, based at Manukau Institute of Technology, for Year 11-Year 13 students, both schools are situated on campus. There are no tuition or book costs for up to five years. Studying on site at the College eases the students into the new postsecondary environment and makes for a smooth transition.
In addition, the funding of the institutions differed from a traditional school. Both schools were initially, (and one of them still is) funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which gave the schools complete autonomy and removed them from the state system. Fierce marketing done by each of the schools allowed prospective students and their families to understand the Early College High School concept. The target audience is similar to the Tertiary High School where students may apply who come from lower socioeconomic, low income families, underrepresented groups and who are possibly first generations, college going students.
Demand for places always exceeded supply. Students who were lucky enough to gain a place in one of these schools are able to learn in a small school between 100 and 200 students. As a result these students are able to receive more one-on-one academic and social support. Teachers work individually with students to remove any barriers they may be facing that may be inhibiting their educational success. Knowing some students miss out on a place may mean the students valued their place more than the place they had in their previous school. This appeared to be the case as from what I saw wandering around the classrooms the students appeared to be working hard and enjoying their learning experience. Staff that I spoke to said they had very few behavioural problems.
To conclude, there appear to be four differences in these two schools in comparison to the traditional school model. These are: the way a school is funded in terms of staffing and resources, the autonomy for decision making, the creation of a collaborative and flexible integrated programme between the two institutions which is relevant, interesting, challenging and rigorous for the students; and a small school which in turn allows for smaller class sizes therefore providing more time for individual teacher and student interaction.
The question remains: Can our senior secondary schools change the way the programmes are developed and delivered to the senior students which in turn would mean increasing the collaboration between secondary and tertiary institutions? In addition, could the policies be adapted so that funding can follow the student? If so, then more students at risk of failing in our traditional school system could be given access to a variety of career options and opportunities in order to create a brighter and happier future for them.