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Is High School Ready For A Major Makeover? Think 'Yes' In A Big Way

Disclaimer #1 – I’m not the EduGod, EduCzsar or EduMaster, but I am willing to share any ideas I have about rethinking high school with those that could be.

Disclaimer #2 – The following ideas are not for the faint of heart or stomach when it comes to education. These are downright revolutionary or at minimum seriously lofty. Either way, I realize they are not necessarily realistic given any analysis of our current system (s).

Disclaimer #3 – Good things cost money. Not all good ideas involve money, but many do require investment. As a nation, we have to decide how we can create something new and better. This will require not only innovation, but also investment.

     As learners, we are sometimes challenged (not often enough fortunately) to think big.  We are able to ask the question ‘what if’ when looking at a challenge.  We are tasked with redesigning, recreating, reimagining or rethinking the entire thing.  Maybe these are more 22nd century ideas. Well, when it comes to our high school system and overall student experience, here are my suggestions:

1)    Schooling after 16 becomes optional. That’s right. We should change the mandatory age of attendance from 18 to 16. That’s right. At 16, or after two years of high school, it should be optional to attend. Instead of having to attend for four years, we’re only going to require two. One might think that this is crazy or that there would be mass exodus. Well, think about when things are mandatory or optional. Which one produces more buy-in or actual participation? I think most, if not almost all students, would actually choose to stay and continue. But the fact that they wouldn’t have to would create an entirely new dynamic and mindset. Wanting to be somewhere, or at least signing up to be somewhere, is very different than have to. As Steve Martin’s character in the classic movie Parenthood once said, “My whole life is have to.”  Well, this would change that even earlier for high schoolers.  That being said, if it’s optional, we need to have more and better choices for students.  That leads to #2.

2)    We develop entirely new pathways for students. We’re one of the few nations in the world that continues to believe in putting our young people through the same system. Some of the intent here is good, but the end result is one average system that does not serve many students that well. Most countries have several options for students depending on their interests, career goals and more. Some naysayers would call this tracking, but we should just simply call them options, choices and pathways.  And we need many of them that are all equally high quality and relevant. We can agree that everyone needs something beyond our minimal high school requirement, but we have done a poor job of creating pathways to those. So, after the age of 16, let’s have some things available that look like this:

·      An Academic Pathway designed for university preparation and advanced academic degrees.

·      A Pre-service Pathway where students get to work in a government department or agency that could look like anything from a hospital to a military environment.  These would be non-paid externship type positions. The monies that would go to paying them to attend two years of high school would go to fund these positions – both to pay the organizations and possibly the students if necessary. 

·      A Skilled Career Pathway – we have a huge demand in terms of employment need, as well as interest amongst students, for things in the skilled areas such as electricians, welders, plumbers, carpenters and more.  Much of our current high school does not prepare students for this work. We need to create a system that gets them in these areas earlier working with professionals in a pre-apprentice or apprentice program.

·      A Business Pathway – again students would have the option to work full-time as a paid or non-paid intern/extern in a corporate or business environment.  Local business and larger corporation would be incentivized to take people through monies that would have gone to their high school attendance, as well as tax break to allow them to create their future workforce. If done right, companies would realize that they can train their own and groom the best future employees.

·      Entrepreneur Pathway – many students will want a different option that those listed above. The create-your- own pathway needs to exist as well. Remember, it’s optional after 16. So, if a student thinks they can come up with their own custom pathway, then so be it. We need to support it. Our global economy needs entrepreneurs more than ever, so here is their pathway.

·      Special Note:  as a nation with lots of talent and expertise, we can develop more or better pathways or options. The point is that we create choice and quality education and training options for all students based on their career goals and interests. Also, students could change pathways. And as they complete any pathway, there are always going to be ways of continuing one’s education through community colleges and other systems.  This would not track or eliminate options for students, but rather focus them. Deep learning only comes from engagement. Engagement comes from ownership. Ownership comes from relevance and choice. Students need to connect their learning to their goals while having high quality, meaningful options.

3)    Mentoring/Coaching/Advising – regardless or which pathway a student chooses, we provide them an official Mentor or Coach. This in an adult who possesses expertise and experience related to their pathway. This person is compensated as a teacher who has additional responsibilities (like our current co-curricular stipend) for advising a caseload of students. We all need a go-to person in the development of our careers and pathways. This person would be the official person that students can contact via phone, text, e-mail, etc. with questions and support related to their pathway and professional pursuits. This is not a new or complex idea in many ways. Indeed, many high school students get this through a co-curricular or extra-curricular activity or program. We just need a system that provides this equally and universally for all.

4)    Technology and Professional Equipment – it’s almost a tired plea or directive at this point. But our students, regardless of their pathway or career interest areas, need to be equipped with technology and professional equipment. Writers use computers, so if students are writing it’s a no brainer. Whatever students are doing, it needs to mirror what the professionals use in terms of the equipment. We can’t fake things. If we don’t use what they use in the real world, we’re cheating our students. It’s that simple. So, it’s not up to the teachers or schools, we need to mandate that all programs mirror their real world counterparts. You can extrapolate from there.

5)    Add your own great idea here ___________________________.  We cannot redesign, recreate, reimagine or rethink without your ideas. We won’t be around for the real 22nd century, but we can start a better system now right?

(Images courtesy of Foter)



  1. Great post! Some great things to think about! I think its time for a change!


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