Currently, we are losing way too many students along the educational pipeline. Of every 100 eight graders, 68 graduate on time. Of those, 40 enroll directly in college. Of those, 27 are still enrolled the following year. Of those, 18 earn an associate’s degree within 3 years or a bachelor’s degree within 6 years. Of those students who do enroll in a higher education institution, far too many require remedial education, which means they must enroll in non-credit bearing courses to learn what they were supposed to have learned in high school, at their own expense. Comparing U.S. education attainment rates with that of other industrialized nations, tells an even darker story. Over the last two decades, a number of countries have surpassed the United States in the proportion of young people in higher education. The proportion in the United States has barely budged. The challenge is clear: We must prepare our high school students to be successful in their post-secondary education, whether that is a selective university, community college, certified career and technical program or apprenticeship.
Excellence for All is inspired by the high school designs used by the top-performing education systems in the world. While there is a lot of variation in these arrangements, there are distinct commonalities in their structures. In these systems, a common curriculum is implemented during the first ten years or so of compulsory schooling. This curriculum defines what that country believes all young people should know and be able to do before they take their next steps. After completing compulsory education, students can enter a number of pathways such as continued preparation for university or a vocational or technical program. All of the top-performing countries have set-up formal gateways between the major stages of education and employment. Each of these gateways is associated with examinations and qualifications defining the courses student must have taken and the grades they must have achieved to move through the gateway to the next destination.
Leading researchers have concluded that the type of system just described is one of the most important factors explaining the success of the top-performing countries. In these systems, the standards are universal and well understood by all participants. Those standards are used to construct high quality course syllabi that set clear expectations. High quality examinations have been created to assess the degree to which the student has mastered what is in the syllabus. The courses are sequenced so that each is the pre-requisite for the next, so the exams actually assess not one course but the results of several years of instruction in the subject as well as the readiness for the next course in the sequence. Teachers in these countries are taught to teach the required courses well to students from many different backgrounds. Instructional materials are perfectly matched to the curriculum. The entire instructional system is highly aligned, well resourced, well taught and very powerful.
The National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) has designed an adaptation of the leading international high school design, incorporating important American values. The initiative, Excellence for All, brings proven-successful, aligned instructional systems to U.S. high schools. These systems have a track record of producing world-class syllabi, instructional materials, examinations and teacher training. Excellence for All is aligned with the Common Core State Standards, enabling participating high schools to not just lay the foundation for the Common Core but to get a head start on implementation.
The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) program, offered by Cambridge International Examinations, serves as the core instructional system for our participating high schools.
The upper division instructional systems (intended for students who have demonstrated their proficiency in their core courses) certified for use in Excellence for All include:
– The Advanced International Certificate Program offered by University of Cambridge International Examinations (their “A-level” program)
– The Advanced Placement International Diploma program offered by the College Board (made up of a specified set of Advanced Placement courses)
– The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme
– BTEC, career and technical qualifications offered by Pearson
Students must take the end-of-course exams in all required courses, which include English, mathematics, the sciences, American and world history and the arts. The passing standard for the mathematics and English exams have been set to the standard of English and mathematics literacy in the first year credit-bearing courses of the nation’s community colleges therefore ensuring college-readiness. Participating schools are required to make a performance-based high school diploma available to students who meet the qualifications on their required core examinations.
Students who meet the qualifications on their required core examinations have several options including:
– Staying in high school and enrolling in a certified upper division Excellence for All program designed to prepare them for admissions to a selective college;
– Enrolling in a high school technical education program leading to an industry-recognized certificate or diploma;
– Enrolling in a local community college, without taking any remedial courses, and participating in a two-year college transfer program entitling them to move on to a four-year college or in a two-year certificate or degree program leading to an industry-recognized qualification; or
– Accepting a high school diploma and entering the workforce.
To support students that may struggle with the rigorous curriculum, Excellence for All provides participating schools with intensive teacher and principal training and support.
With the comprehensive design described above, the primary obligation of high school is to make sure that every student is at least ready to succeed in community college before leaving high school. Excellence for All represents a shift from the seat-time model to competency-based learning. It provides internationally benchmarked standards for student performance, curriculum, instruction and assessment. It aligns high school with the beginning of college. It creates a structure for our high schools that is much better adapted to the needs of the modern economy.