David Stern argues that some basic features of the American high school must be modified if it is to serve all students successfully. He notes, for example, that only three-quarters of U.S. high school students graduate four years after beginning ninth grade and that the National Assessment of Educational Progress found no improvement in reading or mathematics for seventeen-year-olds between 1971 and 2004. The nation’s system for educating teenagers, says Stern, seems to be stuck, despite the constant efforts of teachers and repeated waves of reform.
Citing two widely accepted public purposes of educating teenagers—preparation for civic participation and for economic self-sufficiency—Stern proposes four new strategies to achieve those goals. He draws on empirical evidence suggesting that these are promising directions for research and policy, but acknowledges that existing studies provide only limited guidance.
First, he says, schools should continue the current trend toward integrating educational options to provide young people with skills and experiences that pave the way to both college and careers. Second, states and districts should tie education funding not simply to the number of students attending school, but also to what young people learn, whether they graduate, and whether they find jobs or enroll in postsecondary education. Such a move, he argues, would encourage teaching and learning formats that use students’ time more effectively. Third, more adults in addition to classroom teachers should be involved in educating teenagers. Other adults acting as academic advisers, learning coaches, student advocates, internship supervisors, mentors, and college counselors could help guide the education of teenagers inside and outside of school and provide some relief for the chronic shortage of teachers. Fourth, schools should expand the options for educating teenagers outside of geographically fixed schools. Combining improved Internet-based curriculum with internships and civic engagement projects, for example, may produce better results for many young people and also may promote academic achievement for teenagers who do not thrive in conventional classrooms and for those who face academic and social challenges when they move from one place to another. Stern argues that the limited success of today’s high schools makes such new initiatives well worth trying and evaluating.