Raising age of compulsory education is unhelpful

U.S. colleges are the best in the world because they treat their students with respect. To a greater degree than high school, college centers around the student. This contributes to the less depressing, open environment–where leaning is valued more so than obedience.  Unlike high school, college asks for student input and allows mobile scheduling, among many other things.

High schools will not improve until they mimic the practices that have made U.S colleges great. These practices include extending respect toward their students.

Unfortunately, parents and legislators often vote in ways that move public education further from the college model. They take control away from students, trusting themselves to make better decisions, even though they don’t have to live with the consequences and have not experienced the high school atmosphere for decades. This arrogant stance results in the disrespectful attitude that encourages students to drop-out.

The latest misfire is Senate Bill 9. SB9 would raise the compulsory age of education to 18.  Alaska State Senator Betty Davis (D) provided a statement in defending the bill.

“By increasing the school attendance age to 18, this bill should discourage earlier dropouts and reduce juvenile crime, teen pregnancy and other at risk behaviors. Studies have found that students without a diploma earn less than 75% of those with a diploma; they are more likely to live in poverty, go to jail, and have health problems”.

If school has yet to discourage these behaviors by 16, what profound introspection and conversation will students experience in the next two years? The bill does not care about learning as much as pushing complacent students toward a diploma. It reflects an assumption that unfortunately shapes most public schools: the longer you stay, the more you learn. This attitude make schools resemble prisons more than grounds for personal growth: you earn a diploma because you served a certain term—if you learned anything at all is not of concern to law makers.

In fact, this bill does not even consider learning. Senators make no effort to hid this.

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“The hope here is that as kids stay in school that more will graduate.  That’s the bottom line.  That’s what we’re all hoping,” Senator Kevin Mayor (R) said.

Elsewhere, the senators acknowledge the value of learning. They are trying to improve the prospects of people who would drop out of college by protecting them from a decision whose severe consequences seem far away. But there are better ways to serve would-be high school drop-outs.

One is to make passing the High School Qualifying Graduation Exam (HSQGE) a valuable achievement. A high school diploma—literally—signifies very little: just passing the HSGQE and completing 22.5 credits (unlike college there is no minimum GPA).  If the HSGQE represents 50 percent of a diploma, why not recognize this benchmark? If the only concern is to send drop-outs into the world with some formal document that stresses their worth, why not give students the option that the HSGQE be that document?

As is, SB9 will have serious backfire. Last year, Alaskan schools saved 15 million dollars when 1,400 students dropped out. If this bill is passed, educators will lose that money, which could be spent making public high school more enticing, so that student won’t want to leave in the first place.

Stories on the subject have framed it as raising the drop-out rate. It is actually raising the age where you are forced to stay in high school. According to this bill, if you earn a GED or gain all 22.5 credits by 16, you cannot leave for another two years. And if a student started school at four, and graduated at 17, he would have to provide parental consent to graduate.

This policy is another example of legislators and parents determining the rules that govern the daily atmosphere of high school life. Many would agree that high school is a miserable atmosphere compared to college, and that is due in part to who makes the decisions. High school students did not decide that school should begin five times a week precisely at 7:30 am, or that their actions should be directed by bells ringing in 55 minute intervals.

Unions, teachers, parents, and administrators have more say in selecting teachers than the high school students, though high school students daily interact with these teachers; their education depends on them. Asking student input in little matters can have a huge difference.  If high school students would only be asked, the high school environment would be less depressing and more stimulating: even to the point that students actually choose to attend.