The purpose of the educational enterprise is LEARNING. Engagement is essential to achieving this purpose. How do we increase the proportion of our young people who enroll in and attend school while simultaneously setting high standards and inducing them to become engaged and effective learners? This paper proposes an agenda of reform to achieve these two goals. Each of proposal has a research literature behind it that makes a good case that the policy simultaneously raises the achievement of existing students and encourages them to stay in school or alternatively achieves one of these goals without sacrificing the other.
Strategy # 1 says “Do a better job of convincing adolescents that learning and schooling pays off big time.” Strategy # 2 proposes a variety of ways of making secondary schools both more attractive and more effective. Expand the offerings of and access to career-technical education. Stop building large high schools. Create a new set of small high quality schools of choice: KIPP Academies and Career Academies.
In Strategy # 3 I propose that end-of-course exams [not minimum competency exams or standards based exams] be the primary mechanism (along with teacher grades) for signaling student achievements to colleges and employers and for holding high schools accountable.High quality end-of-course exams that reliably measure achievement over the entire A to F range would need to be developed. Exam grades would appear on the student’s transcript, be part of the final grade in the course and be factored into college admissions and placement decisions. The exam would be a spur for everyone in the class to try harder, not just those who are struggling to pass the course. This strategy brings the interests of students, parents and teachers into alignment, encourages a pro-learning culture in the classroom and makes it easier for teachers to be rigorous and demanding. Universal curriculum-based external exam systems—as they are called--work remarkably well in Europe, Canada, North Carolina and New York and there is every reason to expect them to be equally successful when implemented in other SREB states.