I am disturbed by recent trends to condense and/or fast-track (accelerate) secondary and post-secondary education. Most of this news is coming from the U.S. and some from the UK. Given the current global financial situation, I imagine that these trends are pretty widespread.
- Calls to reduce the number of years in high school in the US from four to three. (see article here)
- Plans to allow qualified 10th graders to test into community college at the end of 10th grade, reducing the number of years in high school from four to two. (Again, US. See NY Times article here)
- Increased marketing of fast-track undergraduate programs in the U.S. that accelerate coursework and condense a four-year program into three years. (see one article here)
- Increased implementation of fast-track programs in the UK that condense a three-year program into two. (see article here)
At the same time, we have the following trends:
- Increased need for remedial classes in both high schools and colleges. (see article here)
- Complaints about failing secondary education systems (see RI).
- Complaints from higher ed faculty that high school graduates are not prepared for college-level work. (perhaps this is constant rather than increasing)
- Complaints from employers that recent college graduates are not prepared for the workforce.
- Studies that show that students take an average of six years to complete an undergraduate degree in the U.S. (see one study here)
Why are fast-track programs proliferating when studies show that it take students longer to complete their undergraduate degrees?
Why are high schools considering cutting senior year from the curriculum when many students are not even achieving the basics in four years?
The overall motivating factor appears to be financial rather than academic – the call for a move from four years of high school to three was put forth as a suggested way to cut costs. Fast-track programs are marketed to students who are attracted to the financial savings – which is pretty modest and mostly realized in a year’s worth of living expenses and annual tuition hikes rather than an actual cut in tuition and fees.
It appears that higher ed institutions would rather fast-track the working class than cut (or even freeze) tuition prices.
Which leads me to ask the question – what is the profile of a student who would be interested in starting classes at a community college at the age of 15 or 16? Only the best and brightest would qualify for this opportunity – the cream of the working class crop.
As a parent of an active five-year old son, as a teacher of social theory, as a woman who was the first from her working class family to attend a four-year institution – I find this all a bit too much to stomach. It took me five years and two changes in major area of study to finish my B.S. in psychology. We know that most students in the U.S. choose their majors after entering college, not before.
Learning requires time for reflection. Critical thinking is not memorization. We know that fast-tracking an education does not make academic sense.
Experiential education opportunities such as study abroad, coop, and service learning are often instrumental to later success – particularly with regards to acquiring social and cultural capital. We know that students from working-class backgrounds need this more than other students.
We know that fast-tracking students fast-tracks them right into the labor market. We know that fast-tracking the working class keeps them right where they are.
We know better and we have an obligation to do better.