Eliminating the Twelfth Grade (Or At Least Making it Optional) Is An Obvious Move

A few days ago, I was pleased to run across this report on a plan in Utah to eliminate 12th grade. And then today, the New York Times followed suit with an article on a plan by multiple high schools in eight different states to allow students to opt into college as soon as the end of their sophomore year.

I am very strongly in favor of such proposals, even if, as is the case for Utah, they are intended as a cost cutting measure rather than a way to improve the educational system. Plans allowing for students to enroll in college when they are ready to do so should have been implemented long before now.

There is nothing magical about the age of 18 or about completing 12th grade that makes students suddenly ready for college. It is empirically obvious that students do just as fine starting college a year or two sooner or later than the current standard age — for instance, in Australia, at least in Queensland, almost all students matriculate from their final year of high school at around age 17, with no ill effects there. Students in other jurisdictions around the world regularly graduate from secondary educational systems at 19 — again, with very little difference in overall results.

Yes, there are advantages to providing four years of high school over three. Then again, there would be advantages to having five years instead of four. Both come with their own costs, too, in lost opportunities. It is hard or impossible to draw an arbitrary line and say “this amount of secondary education is good for everyone,” so a plan allowing for students to opt into college at their own pace is ideal.

Although I do tend towards the belief that the senior year of high school is largely irrelevant and a waste of education resources, I much prefer the plan outlined in the NYT than the blanket proposal in Utah to eliminate the 12th grade. Although I dislike the former program’s reliance on testing, it is more flexible in its approach:

Its backers say the new system would reduce the need for community colleges to offer remedial courses because the passing score for the 10th-grade tests would be set at the level necessary to succeed in first-year college courses. Failure would provide 10th graders with an early warning system about the knowledge and skills they need to master in high school before seeking to enroll in college.

The NYT plan has the benefit of allowing for self-selection, and letting students decide when is the best time for them to start tertiary education. Where I strongly disagree, however, is the idea that students receiving their diploma after the 10th or 11th grades are to be shuttled to community colleges, before starting a traditional four year program a year or two later. Once students have their diploma, whatever year they achieve it in, the entire usual milieu of tertiary opportunities should be available to them.

As things currently stand, the largest impediment to students opting to begin college before finishing the 12th grade are bureaucratic rules with little practical purpose. Currently, some colleges, particularly public ones, flat out refuse to accept any students without a high school diploma. Even for those students who do attend colleges or universities that accept them before they have finished checking off whatever arbitrary graduation checkpoints their jurisdiction requires, there are still regulatory hurdles caused by a lack of a HS diploma that should be eliminated — for instance, many scholarship programs are not available to those who did not graduate high school, even if they are enrolled in college.

Individual students are in the best position to know what will best meet their particular educational needs. For many students, their senior or even junior year of high school really just amounts to killing time — a period more concerned with social milestones than educational ones. Removing the bureaucratic strictures that prevent students from choosing the educational path best suited to their own needs is a policy change that should’ve been made long before now.


4 thoughts on “Eliminating the Twelfth Grade (Or At Least Making it Optional) Is An Obvious Move

  1. The purose of twelfth grade is to allow students to mature and better understand how everything works in the world. For me senior year has been the finishing touches on my school career prior to college and better prepares me for what to expect when it comes to education in college.

    • It sounds like 12th grade was a good thing for you, and that you’re making the most of it. That’s great.

      For some students, though, the 12th grade (or 11th, or other grades) is more unproductive. Having an easy system in place that allows students to opt out and head for tertiary programs at their own pace is a bonus for everyone — for the school systems, who don’t have to expend additional and unnecessary resources on those students, and also for the students themselves, who get greater control over their educational path.

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