Recently in Utah, state Senator Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan) proposed a way to save his state up to $102 million dollars — make the 12th grade optional. With a budget deficit of $700 million, Utah lawmakers must be scratching their heads over whether or not to embrace untraditional means to alleviate their budgetary distress — especially when school districts in places like Kansas City, Missouri, are being forced to useto stay afloat financially.
Senator Buttars, who has since backtracked a bit on the proposal, believes that a lot of seniors slack off in their final year of high school and just “play around.” This ends up costing school districts money that perhaps may be allotted to extracurricular activities which some may deem unnecessary. So he favors a system of “accelerated graduation” that would get some students out of the system sooner. Opponents of the proposal argue that senior year is still necessary because it helps to mature the students, providing another year to excel academically, athletically, and creatively.
So is the senior year in high school really as critical as some people think? Would school districts, in general, create a huge disservice to the students who may not be ready to make that choice for themselves? If eliminating the 12th grade was optional, and only a few students opted to stay in school, would the school districts accommodate the few or default to the many?
Obviously, this idea needs to be examined from several points of view. If students were able to meet all the required courses to graduate in three years instead of four, then why shouldn’t they graduate early? In some cases honors students, who already outperform other students in their grade, often complete their basic requirements early and spend the 12th grade either taking more college-prep courses or several fun electives or activities. Clearly it depends on a student’s goals after high school and how self-motivated they are.
Some students have a lighter load in senior year; complete classes scheduled earlier in the day and move on to work a part-time job or just go home. If there are students just hanging around school engaging in fun activities or causing distractions and mischief, should taxpayers have to pay for that?
Then there’s the argument that students need that fourth year to help them mature for the responsibilities of young adulthood. While it is true that some 11th graders surpass 12th graders, and even some college freshman, the need for that last year in a structured, predictable environment may be important to the social development of many students. Also, not every high school graduate goes to college. Some go straight into the workforce, and others who have no clue, will require another year or two before figuring out exactly what they want to do “when they grow up.”
On my Facebook page, I asked my friends their thoughts on the issue. One said he couldn’t imagine going to college without first completing senior year. “That’s where you get Calculus and Trig … not to mention you need that year to deal with hormonal issues.” He also believes that senior year provides a continuous flow of education for those planning to go to college right away. “Having gone to college years after I graduated, it was a lot harder to get into the swing, especially for math.” That potentially lost year of high school could disrupt the habit of learning and studying, causing students starting college later, to have a tougher time getting back into the swing of things.
At least two of my friends drew the conclusion that compromising the education of generations to come could lead to a major decline in employability and self-development. “Take away 12th grade from schools in lower-income neighborhoods, like where I came from and you may as well incarcerate the failing student and put a broom in his hands.”
Another friend, whose husband is from Egypt said, “Where my husband is from, you are geared from high school to go straight into medical school, etc. The problem though is due to a lack of social and emotional development these doctors and lawyers, in my opinion, do not possess that necessary element to really follow through with providing their best professionally to clients. There is a disconnect. But I do believe there is an economic incentive to create these extra years in any learning institution.”
Overall, the majority of the feedback I received rejected the idea of making Year Four of high school optional. But with school districts and states around the nation facing dire budget crunches, all options for cutting costs will eventually end up on the table. This is just one of many other controversial proposals to come.
So, what do you think? Is making the fourth year of high school optional a smart proposal for saving money? Short of laying off more teachers and gutting extracurricular programs, what types of creative solutions should we pursue to help our schools weather the current economic storm?