In February, the national press reported on a pilot program that will give high school sophomores in eight states a chance to earn a diploma and head straight to credit-bearing math and English courses at a state college. To do so, they will have to take special course work and can try to pass academic tests known as board exams as early as grade 10.
The idea of a grade 10 diploma is the latest brainchild of the National Center on Education and the Economy, the originator of the unsuccessful school-to-work initiative in the 1990s. The project is funded by the Gates Foundation, which has abandoned its initiative to create small high schools as a way to get more low-achieving students through high school.
The center’s so-called fast-track approach ups the ante and aims to get at-risk students out of high school and into college – and supposedly on a quick credit-bearing path to a degree. It also aims to get bright high school students into college sooner for supposedly better course work. However, the center’s proposed 10th-grade “diploma” is the wrong answer to the wrong problem for three groups of students: those with a strong academic orientation, those without it but who are willing to stay in school and those who drop out.