Going to high school: A moral and economic imperative

A few thoughts as I reviewed some articles on high school reform:

As a society we need to acknowledge that all students have a right to a high-quality secondary school education that will prepare them to meet the challenges they will face upon graduation. This is especially important in today’s knowledge-based economy where essential 21st century skills for success need to be developed in school. I admit that I still need to fully understand what most educators would agree regarding this set of skills, and I look forward to learning more. In any case, high school students should feel equipped and confident for either continued study in college or entering the workforce after grade 12.

Unfortunately, it is becoming evident to me that today’s high schools are not necessarily designed with this in mind.  Most high school experiences have been designed for a different era. They follow what has been coined as “the 20th century factory model” (Darling-Hammond & Friedlaender, 2008, p. 14). At the beginning of the 20th century approximately 10% of high school-aged students actually went to school. This was a luxury for a choice few. Today, attendance laws require all high school-aged students be in the classroom or be held accountable for their time. As a result, the high school has developed in a manner that typically processes as many students as possible. This model favors size and efficiency over relationship (Darling-Hammond & Friedlaender, 2008). Students are gathered in relatively large class sizes, they attend multiple classes in a day and are taught by multiple teachers, many of whom rarely have the opportunity to collaborate effectively with their colleagues over instructional improvement and best practices. To me, the typical US high school is too large and impersonal.  My opportunities to visit high schools in the Puget Sound have left me thinking that they are detached communities filled with many students who are not necessarily engaged and interested in learning.

In the light of greater global economic competition and any related demands from the workplace, our schools need to help students meet the new requirements of the 21st century. Wise (2008) rightly describes this as a “moral and economic imperative” (p. 9) for us to address. I believe that society expects our students to be ready for the challenges they will face upon graduation. They want students to be well-prepared to be active contributors in the global community. Parents expect more from our high schools  for their children. They want to know that their children are prepared and able to lead productive lives. Students want to be engaged and can be motivated to learn more. Perhaps the current model of high school needs to change in order to meet these expectations in light of this new reality.


Darling-Hammond, L. & Friedlaender, D. (2008). Creating excellent and equitable schools.Educational Leadership, 65(8); 14-21.

Wise, B. (2008, May). High schools at the tipping point. Educational Leadership, 65(8); 8-13.


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