By Sharon Jayson
Governors in at least nine states are pushing broad-based initiatives to overhaul the senior year of high school. They say the second half of the year in particular wastes students' time and taxpayers' money. "Senioritis" often appears toward the middle of the year, when many students have met graduation requirements and take largely electives.
In the past, "we thought high school has to be four years and college has to be four years," says Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, a Democrat and chairman of the National Governors Association. "These are notions that have to be revisited."
Some state proposals include financial incentives for early graduation and expanding "dual enrollment," in which students simultaneously earn high school and college credit. Some form of dual enrollment is available in 38 states; proposals include making credits transferable to more colleges and offering courses online. Other plans involve making high school curricula more rigorous or increasing graduation requirements. (Related story: Search for a 'senioritis' cure is on)
Governors cite a ripple effect: leaving high school early frees up classroom space, which reduces construction costs for new schools. Students save on tuition by taking college-level classes early, and states pay less to subsidize tuition at state universities. When students earn degrees sooner, campuses have space for others.
"The 12th grade is the biggest wasteland in America," says Charles Reed, chancellor of the California State University System, where he says half the students were unprepared in math or English because they didn't take rigorous classes as seniors.
"I think we will see more and more students finishing their primary education and moving to higher education more quickly after 11 or 11½ years, rather than waiting for the historic 12-year graduation cycle," says Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas. "Where we're heading is K-11 or 'K through F' — finish, whatever that is."
But critics say focusing on senior year alone is too narrow an approach. "You have to look at the whole four-year experience," says Gerald Tirozzi of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "You can't just suddenly attack senior year."
Among programs already in place:
Governors in Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Mississippi are also focusing on senior year. Mississippi legislators just rejected Gov. Haley Barbour's most recent proposals, but he is expected to pursue them further.