Improving Education Requires Higher Standards, Demands

Article excerpt

By Bill May

Journal Record Staff Reporter

American high school students don't perform any better than they do because no one expects them to.

This is not going to change until school boards, faculty and administration officials, schools and employers in each community demand a higher quality high school graduate, according to Dr. James E. Bottoms, director of the High Schools That Work program.

Setting higher standards and demanding more will help prepare students better for both college and the jobs market, which should be the objective of both common high schools and vocational-technical schools, he said.

"I've never heard any employer anywhere in the United States tell an employee that: `You've been on the reduced or free lunch program at high school, therefore, I won't expect as much out of you at work.' Instead, those students must perform on the job the same as students who weren't on these assistance programs," Bottoms told a group of educators in Oklahoma City. "Yet, schools which have a high rate of students on free and reduced-cost lunches are allowed to have lower standards for their students than other schools.

"What this tells the students is that they don't have to work, they don't have to read outside the classroom, they don't have to complete their homework. We are not challenging our students, giving them something to strive for."

Until this changes, Bottoms said, employers will continue to say students are not prepared for the job market.

Bottoms became director of the high school challenge program at its inception in 1987 and has seen it grow significantly while at the same time improve curriculum, he said. The High Schools That Work program is sponsored by the Southern Regional Education Board and the State Vocational Education Consortium.

Eighteen months ago the program was in 38 schools, and today it's in 300 participating high schools in 19 states, he said.

"This doesn't mean that the faculty, the boards and the administration have just adopted our program and think they are doing good," he said. "They must prove to us that they are actively working to improve. Within 12 months of signing on, they must present to us a plan that has been signed off on by at least 75 percent of the faculty, that's been developed by the community, the teachers, the vo-techs and the common schools. If they don't, we yank the name.

"This is not just some sort of `name it, claim it' thing. They must be involved and be actively trying to improve to continue using the name of High Schools That Work."

The High Schools That Work program blends academic and vocational education to raise achievement of career-bound students in math, science and communication, he said.

During the seminar at Francis Tuttle Vocational-Technical School, 12777 N. Rockwell Ave., Bottoms made a pitch for the program's adoption in central Oklahoma and urged a more cooperative approach between faculty of common schools and vo-techs.

A teacher exchange, allowing teachers to work with and observe others in action, is key to developing a better joint program which will improve the quality of graduates, Bottoms said.

A survey of faculty, students and employers throughout the 19 states showed that each group views high school graduates in the same light _ they are not prepared for the job market.

"In fact, only 14 percent of the vocational-technical teachers would recommend 80 percent of their students to an employer," Bottoms said. "That's because there was some sort of deficiency in their education."

Most students involved in vocational and technical classes were seldom assigned homework. …