As a head of a school that serves students in preschool through twelfth grade, I am often thinking about educational trends. I partner with teachers to set goals for our students, and I often wonder what is really behind these goals. Lately I have found myself constantly asking the question, “What drives high school education?” As I evaluate our high school program, I realize that I am not pleased with the driving force that ultimately dictates the pressures we place on our students as early as elementary school. What is this force?
I believe that university entrance requirements are currently in the driver’s seat of education. This greatly concerns me. I see that our schools have been trained to manufacture a strong university applicant, instead of devoting themselves to student needs. Of course, there are many schools that care deeply about their students and attempt to meet their emotional, social and academic needs – I do not want to discount this. My concern is that schools are limited in the ways they can choose to meet student needs, as well as their ability to meet these needs in innovative ways and the college entrance requirements are ultimately the source of these limitations. I have heard of many schools who would like to dump AP courses and IB diplomas. These schools see that there are students who benefit from these programs, but they also see an increasing number of students pushing themselves to register for these courses, at the expense of their teenage years. These are students who must work much harder than the AP or IB students of prior years, as there are more students trying to gain university admissions today. They do get decent grades, but the amount of time it takes in order to do so is placing an incredible amount of undue stress on the young people of today.
The irony of the aforementioned reality is that many employers in the job market tomorrow are not even interested in the skills being taught in high school today – they want creativity, adaptability and initiative. These are amazing attributes that are critical in the constantly changing society we live in today. Yet, we are still teaching our students to memorize and regurgitate information as if the information still does not exist at their fingertips, but it does – via Google.
It is my hope that at some point university leaders will team with business owners and high school leaders to really evaluate high school education. I would love to see us partner together and question whether the system is really serving our students. I would love to see this partnership evaluate the most successful college graduates (not most successful students, as the correlation is not always there). I would like to understand what skills the most successful college graduates have – and how these skills are taught at the university level. Then, we need to look at the profiles of the students prior to their university years. When we look at the profiles of these students, we need to ask how ourselves what skills they gained in high school that afforded them the opportunity to learn what they needed to in university in order to succeed post-university. I think we may be surprised. My guess is that the skills necessary to succeed in life may not be the skills we focus on as we push our students towards university admissions processes. What if we all worked together to research, understand, and synthesize this information so that we can be more focused with our high school students, while simultaneously relieving them from unnecessary pressure?
Today, 67 days ’til 40, I realize that education as we know it is on the edge of a great revolution. It is my wish that we will be able to gracefully handle the rapid changes that will come our way, and do so in a manner that will protect our young people and afford them the opportunity to enjoy their high school experience without undue stress.