Elevate student performance by changing high school graduation requirements

Reposted with permission by Lynn Stoddard

Inasmuch as some legislators are now calling for “higher student performance” before they will allocate more funding for education, why don’t we change graduation requirements so that more Sterling Scholars can emerge?

At the present time, our subject-based system of credits and grades allows for only a small percentage of students to become outstanding students. A personalized learning and graduation plan will provide for virtually every student to become a “Sterling Scholar.”

Over 40 years ago, Maurice Gibbons, a professor at Simon Fraser University, wrote an article, “Walkabout: Searching for the Right Passage from Childhood and School.” He tells what high school graduations would be like if they were patterned after the Australian Walkabout — if students were required to show how they would develop themselves while choosing challenges and curriculum to attain personal knowledge and skills. Shortly after that, my friend, Arnie Langberg, started a high school program based on Gibbon’s Walkabout model.

Jefferson County Open High School in Colorado has now been in operation for over 40 years. Rick Posner, a graduate and teacher, has done a study of the graduates and written a book about it. In “Lives of Passion, School of Hope,” Dr. Posner tells how each graduate has become a successful, contributing member of the community. Posner reports on 431 responses he got from detailed questionnaires and personal interviews.

Perhaps the most interesting thing Posner learned was the number of graduates who went on to college — 91 percent. And of those, 85 percent completed graduate degree programs. (The national average is 45 percent.)

Posner’s study is strong verification for inviting students to be contributors to society as a rite of passage to the adult world. Students choose their own courses of study and design their own learning in accordance with passages such as these:

  • “Adventure: a challenge to the student’s daring, endurance, and skill in an unfamiliar environment.
  • Creativity: a challenge to explore, cultivate, and express his or her own imagination in some aesthetically pleasing form.
  • Service: a challenge to identify a human need for assistance and provide it; to express caring without expectation of reward.
  • Practical skill: a challenge to explore a utilitarian activity, to learn the knowledge and skills necessary to work in that field, and to produce something of use.
  • Logical inquiry: a challenge to explore one’s curiosity, to formulate a question or problem of personal importance and to pursue a solution systematically and, wherever appropriate, by investigation.”

At Jefferson School, a special adviser gets to know and care about each student and serves as an ongoing consultant to help the student think through various paths of study and develop a learning plan for each passage. For graduation, each student has a personalized ceremony and gives his or her own valedictorian presentation to show how s/he will be a contributor to society.In addition to ‘walkabout” there are several personalized learning and graduation plans available from which the Boards of Education can choose. One plan advocates for teachers and parents to form a partnership to help students grow in seven key human qualities: identity, inquiry, interaction, initiative, imagination, intuition and integrity. Another uses “C” words — communication, curiosity, caring, cooperation, consciousness, creativity and competence.

If we really want higher student performance, we will stop the depressing practice of trying to standardize students with a common, limited curriculum. We will change graduation requirements to allow students to follow their interests and dreams and become deeply engaged in personal quests. Virtually every student loves school and excels in something when they have many choices of subject matter content.

Lynn Stoddard, a veteran of World War II, is also a veteran educator who advocates changing to a student-centered system of public education. He can be reached at lstrd@yahoo.com.

Elevate student performance by changing high school graduation requirements

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