Friday, September 4, 2015

Could selective public high schools save U.S. education?

The next time someone compares the U.S. education system to those in other countries, the selectiveness of public high schools in those countries should be noted. In other words, in Finland, Germany, etc., you either pass a rigorous set of examinations in order to be admitted into a college prep high school, or it's off to be a butcher's apprentice for you.

"Most Finnish high schools practice selective admission, including more than 50 that, as a local education expert told us, “can just as well be called schools for the gifted and talented.”
In Germany and Switzerland, too, the high schools (“gymnasiums”) that prepare students for university are mostly selective. A handful also have intensive tracks with extra courses for uncommonly able youngsters.
Western Australia, like Singapore, screens all schoolchildren in third or fourth grade to see which of them show academic promise. Those who excel can choose to enter specialized classrooms or after-school enrichment programs. Both places also boast super-selective public high schools akin to Boston Latin School or the Bronx High School of Science.
What lessons can the U.S. take from this research on how to raise the academic ceiling, while also lifting the floor? States could screen all their students and offer top scorers extra challenges. They could encourage smart kids to accelerate through school or—more disruptive—allow every child to move through the curriculum at his own pace. Why must every 11-year-old be in fifth grade? Technology eases such individualization, but this change would also require agile teachers and major revisions to academic standards, curricula and tests that now assume every child should progress through one grade a year. Schools would have to ensure that extracurricular and social activities remain more or less based on age. But liberating fast learners to surge forward academically would do them—and society—a world of good."

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