Academic journal article College and University

Seamlessness, Senior Slump, and the Policy World: Old Issues, New Insights

Academic journal article College and University

Seamlessness, Senior Slump, and the Policy World: Old Issues, New Insights

Article excerpt

the Forum

Policy Analysis

In the education policy arena, increasing coordination and collaboration between elementary, secondary, and higher institutions of learning has long been a topic of discussion and priority for reform. Over the years, this issue has evolved considerably and has developed many catchphrases, such as "seamless education" or "P-20 education." Recently, attention in this area of policy has focused on the final year of high school as a fundamental point of disconnect in the educational system. Researchers and policy analysts point to this crucial period as one that most clearly embodies the shortcomings of the education system as it is currently configured. Following that lead, the popular media have also seized on this phenomenon, bemoaning the "loss" of the senior year through accounts such as the following:

"Senioritis, or senior slump, has become so severe that soon we might have to drop the pretense and say high school lasts three and a half years, followed by a six-month break. A training-wheels sabbatical" (Herring 2001).

These issues have also attracted the interest of the policymaker community, with former Secretary of Education Richard Riley appointing the National Commission on the High School Senior Year in June 2000. The Commission (2001), composed of local, state, and national policymakers and education leaders, was charged with exploring the following four questions:

1 To what extent is there a convergence in expectations for students going to college and those going directly into the workforce?

2 What is the nature of the disconnect between K-i2 and postsecondary education that leads to large numbers of students needing remediation and not successfully completing postsecondary degrees?

3 What is different about the disconnect for students entering the workplace (whether they begin working immediately out of high school or after they finish postsecondary education)?

4 Could changes be made in how we structure the existing twelve years of schooling to increase achievement for all students at the end of their senior year?

Despite the emphasis implied by the Commission's name, its work has reached far beyond the senior year. Its primary findings will not surprise most education observers-the secondary education experience is failing too many students, regardless of their ambition, and there is a glaring lack of communication between K-is and postsecondary education and between the education community and the private sector.

However, the timing of this message should give pause to policymakers and education leaders. The Commission's troubling observations come at a time when education's social and economic capital is reaching an all-time high, driven by the shift to an information-centered society. Where pundits and the general public were questioning the value of universal postsecondary education just a generation ago, today the vast majority of Americans see some form of post-high school learning as an absolute necessity for their children. In short, the stakes in education are higher than ever before, and rhetoric not backed by real progress will not only leave our nation's children behind, but will potentially compromise our economic and geopolitical strength. While the policy community is engaging some of the issues raised by the Commission, others beg to be addressed, and serious discussions about these issues are long overdue.

Key Findings: The National Commission on the High School Senior Year

The Commission released its final report in Fall zoos, after reviewing hundreds of pages of analysis and holding public hearings and focus groups nationwide. Its work reiterates and amplifies several existing diagnoses of trouble in the nation's education system:

1 The academic performance of American seniors is alarmingly low in key subject areas. The roots of this performance lag reach all the way through the high school years, and leaves seniors at a competitive disadvantage with their international counterparts. …

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