Experts: High schools don’t prepare students for world

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AUGUSTA – Too many students leave high schools with diplomas but not the education they’ll need to go to college or enter the work force, Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron said.

A new national group is calling the problem “a crisis.” Gendron and other educators say high schools need to change.

This week Maine is launching The Maine Readiness Campaign, inviting school board members, superintendents, high school principals, community and business leaders to figure out how high schools will change, Gendron said.

Every public high school should assume that every single student is going to college, and needs to take the right courses to get there, said former education commissioner Duke Albanese.

That’s not happening.

“Too many students are in courses of study, different tracks that aren’t going to prepare them for the future they’re going to see,” said Albanese, who heads up a high school reform movement at the Mitchell Institute in Portland. That’s a problem since jobs that don’t require a college degree, fishing and logging, are disappearing.

A majority of Maine students say they’re going to college, “but sometimes schools don’t put them in the kind of courses,” Albanese said. “That’s not what equity is about. We need to give all kids access to a high school program that will allow them if they want to go onto higher education.”

Lewiston’s Peter Geiger of the Coalition for Excellence in Education agreed, saying there ought to be tougher courses statewide to graduate from high school. In too many schools “the challenge is not there,” he said. A former St. Joseph’s College board member, Geiger said many high school graduates have to take remedial courses in college.

College prep push

Even graduates who don’t go to college need college-prep courses, said Sen. Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, co-chairwoman of the legislative Education Committee. “For jobs today, they need to know computer and math to function in this climate.”

She’s heard some guidance counselors say they know certain high school students who will be welders like their fathers, so they don’t need the tougher courses. Assuming any high school student won’t go to college “is shortchanging them,” she said. “What kids need is adults to tell them they’re capable, you can do these things.'”

The issue of high school graduates not ready for their futures is capturing national attention.

The Oprah Winfrey Show this week is featuring a two-day report: “American Schools in Crisis,” featuring Bill and Melinda Gates. The Gateses have invested more than $1 billion to support high-quality high schools. The show teamed up with Time magazine, which devoted its April 17 cover story about the problem.

A national coalition calling itself Stand Up is announcing itself today, according to a news release. The coalition will call on all Americans to demand change so that every high school student is well educated. Nationally only one in every three ninth-graders actually leaves high school in four years ready for college and the working world, the group said.

To help mobilize change, Stand Up is launching a Web site; www.standup.org. The new coalition has members in every state. The Maine member is the Great Maine Schools Project at the Mitchell Institute (www.greatmaineschools.org), which Albanese heads.

While high school graduates not being ready for work or college is a national issue, it’s a bigger problem in Maine compared to the rest of New England, Gendron said. Fewer Mainers have college degrees and go onto college compared to the rest of New England, she said.

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