Jasen Hadl analyzes car engine problems with a $50,000 computer at Lawrence High School.
The LHS auto technology course he's taking to learn how to use sophisticated diagnostic hardware is among a series of classes this senior has taken to prepare for enrollment at a technical school. What comes next, he says, will be a career in the automobile industry.
Hadl hasn't run from academic rigor. After all, he said, "Everything's going to computer." But his high school transcript doesn't mirror that of a student angling for admission to a traditional four-year university.
The National Commission on the Senior Year wants to change that.
Sixteen months ago, the commission was asked by then-U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley to study ways of reducing the ramifications of "senioritis." It's a well-known malady that strikes when senior students decide they're entitled to a rest at school.
The 29-member commission decided in October that academic problems in the nation's high schools went deeper. They endorsed a plan that would require U.S. high schools to make the college-prep track the curriculum for all students. The only way a student could be assigned to an alternative track would be with parental permission.
Is it necessary?
In other words, Hadl could be forced to substitute an extra year of English, math or history for the automotive technology class that is helping prepare him for a career.
Many educators, including Hadl's auto tech teacher David Tenpenny, say the high school curriculum should be strong enough to meet demands of an increasingly technological world.
But curriculum also should remain flexible enough to meet students' desire to work in a wide variety of occupations house painter, veterinarian, auto mechanic, sales clerk, nuclear engineer.
"I'd put our auto tech curriculum up against any vo-tech in this area ... and I believe that touching on all the subjects is necessary," Tenpenny said. "But four years of English?"
In the report, the commission concluded that high schools failed to prepare students to acquire the education and training they need for a fast-changing, complex economy.
For example, the commission said, 90 percent of students enroll in a post-secondary program within two years of high school graduation. But only 43 percent of seniors possess the academic preparation they need for higher education.
One size doesn't fit
While adding rigor to the high school curriculum has merit, Bob Eales said the old axiom about one size not fitting all was applicable.
"People need to be well-educated, but advanced coursework is not what everybody needs," said Eales, the Lawrence district's director of vocational and continuing education.
He said it makes a difference whether a high school student was bound for Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., or Wyoming Technical Institute in Laramie, as is the case with Hadl.
Eales said the typical college-prep curriculum in high school was crafted to meet the needs of students headed to four-year universities. That's unfair to students interested in other forms of post-secondary education, he said.
The bias in Lawrence in favor of a university education, regardless of what interested individual students, is troubling, Eales said.
"It's always been that flavor," he said. "There's a lot of jobs out there that don't require a four-year college degree."