My Turn: Plan should address needs for all students

Posted: Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Based on the current plan, Juneau will have two basically equal, theme-based high schools. As a parent of two students, I have many reservations and concerns about it.

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First, the current plan may not serve the needs for all students. Does the current plan 1) enhance the education quality for college-bound students, 2) provide a better education environment for "college dreams" students, 3) provide a better career training for students who are not college bound, and 4) reduce dropouts? I think the current plan focuses too much on 2 and 4, makes little difference on 3 and hurts 1.

Second, I share many parents' views reported by Juneau Empire on Nov. 15 that the current plan may reduce education quality for college-bound students and limit their career choices. It is obvious that most college-bound students will not be ready to make their career choices at the ninth grade, and that forcing them to choose a theme to study in high school will hurt their future career choices. Because of limited resource, diverting the resource for something else will hurt the education quality. Since it is more difficult to find a well qualified teacher to teach advanced classes than to teach regular "easy" classes, the resource diverting problem will hurt the high-achieving students most. A good teacher is hard to come by.

Finally, little detailed information is available about the curricula. The current plan suggests that "a history class in a science academy might focus on the history of science." For college-bound students, such focused education will not provide a good foundation for their success in college. High school education is a basic foundation education. What college-bound students need is a good foundation, not a foundation just for a theme area. Theme focused education is in junior and senior years of colleges and graduate schools, not high schools.

With a new high school, Juneau has an opportunity to develop two centers of education excellence. One is a traditional school for college-bound students. This high school will focus on academic excellence: more choices of high quality Advanced Placement classes, primarily advanced courses, and high academic requirements. Besides academics, a variety of after-school activities should be organized and involve every student. Most students, if not all students, should enroll in the E3 program. With very limited offering of easy classes and career classes, the resource is prioritized for academic excellence. The graduates from this high school will have a good chance to enter a good (selective) university with some scholarships. This is like the public version of a good private school.

Another one is a theme-based and academy high school to provide excellence for career education and prepare students to realize their "college dreams." A large majority of students in this school are not college bound. We should have theme-based curriculum for them and offer a variety of career courses. To optimize resource, offering of advanced classes is limited and no AP classes are offered. Every student in this school will be in a Small Learning Community, and at-risk students should be in the Choice program. For students who are not college bound, a good offering of career classes will help them enter job markets right after high school. For those students who have difficulty preparing for colleges in a traditional high school, general academies such as the Early Scholars Academy and small learning communities will help them.

With two different high schools, we not only optimize the resources to increase education quality, we also increase choices for students and meet the needs for all students. Students can choose either school at the ninth grade, and with some limitations, a small number of students may exchange schools at the beginning of each school year.

I applaud the school district and Juneau School Board for their creative thinking for the Next Generation Plan. I hope that the school district and the School Board think and rethink the needs of all students, not just some segments of the student body. I hope my children will not undertake any education experiments with results that are predictably unfavorable to them.

• Jie Zheng is a scientist and Juneau resident.

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