Is All of 12th Grade Necessary for All Students?

With the coming of spring, so comes the rite of senioritis, that time when high school seniors do very little of an academic nature, and, as a result, often get themselves into trouble due to having too much time, accompanied by too little structure. Actually, senioritis started last year when large numbers of 12th graders scheduled themselves for late school arrivals, multiple lunch periods, and only two or three academic classes. What a huge waste of time, opportunity and money!

I propose that during the first three months of a student's 10th grade year the student, family and school counselor create three alternative educational plans for the remainder of the student's high school career: graduation prior to 12th grade, during the middle of 12th grade and at the end of 12th grade. The specifics of each plan would depend upon the individual student: academic success to date, interest in pursuing specific extracurricular activities during 12th grade, college plans, need or desire to work prior to college, and, very importantly, the maturity to graduate high school somewhat earlier.

The planning of early graduation is not difficult to conceptualize. In New York State, for example, though there are innumerable high school graduation requirements, almost none of them require a student to be in attendance during his entire 12th grade year. Taking a full course load in grades 9, 10 and 11 will meet almost all requirements.

A corollary benefit of requiring each high school to implement such an educational plan for each student is that high schools would have to perform comprehensive reviews of their educational programs to properly evaluate and counsel students: which courses are offered during the senior year, how many students are taking each course, are there other courses that students would rather take, or are there other courses of study or in-school experiences that students would prefer? And, perhaps most importantly, who is this person and what are her strengths, interests and goals?

The competition that high schools would feel as a result of students having alternatives to the traditional four-year high school program would improve education for all students, not only those who opt to graduate early:

1. High schools will form closer relationships with neighboring two-year and four-year colleges, probably resulting in many more college courses being offered on the high school site.
2. A limited number of online courses would be offered to students prior to 12th grade, recognizing that such courses are currently utilized by students in rural communities and/or very small high schools where advanced placement and other specialized courses are not available due to insufficient numbers of students or the lack of qualified teachers.
3. Schools could seek 12th grade internships and formal volunteer experiences for some of their students, in order to encourage students to remain in attendance.

Is it not our obligation to facilitate what is best for each student by requiring a structured planning process, especially one that carries no additional cost to the school or family? Not only those students who understand their right to graduate early, as it now exists in its limited way, should benefit from increased flexibility and opportunities and utilize their time in the most productive manner.

To encourage schools to implement this expanded planning process, a financial incentive should be provided. Here is where everyone benefits! The state's share of a high school education continues to flow regardless of the student's early graduation; however:

1. A third of that share is now placed in the college accounts of those students who graduate early.
2. A second third is utilized by the local school district to improve educational programs or returned to local taxpayers.
3. The state keeps the final third.

A true win-win-win!