GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Fast-Tracking the Working Class

In Happy Mondays on 2010/03/03 at 09:00

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.

Some highlights:

  1. Calls to reduce the number of years in high school in the US from four to three. (see article here)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. 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:

  1. Increased need for remedial classes in both high schools and colleges. (see article here)
  2. Complaints about failing secondary education systems (see RI).
  3. Complaints from higher ed faculty that high school graduates are not prepared for college-level work. (perhaps this is constant rather than increasing)
  4. Complaints from employers that recent college graduates are not prepared for the workforce.
  5. 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.

Mary Churchill

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  1. When I worked as a guidance counselor in a small rural high school, there were two types of people who wanted to graduate early (3 years): A few were very bright, gifted students who were ready for the challenge of college. The second group of students were those who had been held back or failed at some point in their school years. They wanted to catch up and graduate with the class with which they entered kindergarten. They were exceptionally motivated to do this and usually succeeded in their quest. They worked like crazy to achieve, and fulfill the requirements in three years.There was no problem with going into the world of work or college. I agree that high schools should not shortchange student. A demanding 4 year curriculum should be required, and efforts to diminish this should be avoided. However, education is very personal, and people develop at different rates. Education should accommodate all without sacrificing individuality. all should be expected to reach the highest standards, to learn as much as possible.Revive Benjamin Bloom

  2. Phil – thanks for commenting. I agree – SOME kids are ready early and for some kids high school is a humiliating and debilitating experience. When numbers in both camps grow beyond a very small minority, I would suggest that we need to rethink how we do high school. The LAST move I would make would be to cut a year – to ask students who are already struggling to complete four years of work in three. This move is 100% financial 0% academic. I have seen too many situations where teachers/faculty/professors are asked to make academic justifications for financial decisions, with money as the driver.

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