School Choice

Why I Gave My Son Permission To Drop Out Of High School

Last month I wrote about allowing my 14 year-old to make his own decision regarding where he’d go to high school. After letting it get down to the wire, he finally decided that he’ll be attending the same Specialized High School his older brother graduated from in 2017.

But he isn’t particularly enthused about it.

My younger son had a front-row seat to his brother’s four years at (arguably) New York City’s top public high school.

He was privy to his brother’s freshman biology curriculum that went nowhere, the AP classes cancelled at the last minute due to lack of teachers, the PE coach who taunted kids with ethnic accents, the endless substitutes, the Computer Science course where programming was done on paper, and our oft-quoted family favorite, the teacher who told my son, “Don’t think, just tell me what’s in the book.”

The difference between my boys is that the older one will sit down and diligently do his work, no matter how tedious, meaningless, and ridiculous he finds the assignment.

My younger one… might. Then again, he might not.

When he heard which school his brother had ultimately chosen, my older son was concerned. “The teachers won’t like a kid who asks questions instead of just answers them.”

My 14 year-old was so bummed, I made him a deal: He would attend for a year. If it turned out to be a bad fit, we would explore other options.

Except, here’s the rub: Just like with the illusion of school choice at the lower academic levels (which trickles up), there aren’t a lot of other options.

What my son is really itching to do is skip high school and go straight to college. He knows what he wants to study, he knows what he wants to do with his life, and he doesn’t appreciate being forced to wait to do it.

So I did some research. CUNY, the City University of New York, told me they won’t let applicants take its placement test, without a high school diploma.

But, get this! Over 50 percent of teens who graduate NY high schools with a HS diploma can’t pass the CUNY placement test!

However, in a Catch-22 worthy of George Orwell’s doublethink, passing the placement test won’t get you a high school diploma! (Anybody else getting the Scarecrow in Wizard Of Oz vibes? And/or wondering how many literary metaphors I can mix in one paragraph?)

CUNY will accept a high school equivalency to be considered for admission. It can be the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC), or the lesser known Section 3.47(a)(2)(ii), which permits:

Having passed and completed all requirements for the following five Regents examinations or approved alternative assessments for these examinations: the Regents Comprehensive Examination in English, the Regents examination in mathematics, the Regents examination in United States history and government, a Regents examination in science, and the Regents examination in global history and geography.

But, we’re not home-free yet!

NYC students can’t sit for either the TASC or leave school after passing the above five Regents until they are 16 years old.

What does age have to do with what you know? Or what you want to learn next?

(It does have a great deal to do with economics, as high school became compulsory nationwide during The Great Depression, in order to keep teens from competing with adults for jobs.)

I’ve written before about how a myriad of NYC school problems could be solved simply by letting all children proceed through all grades at their own pace.

I’ve also written about how there are not enough seats at Accelerated high schools for all the kids who want them, qualify for them, or could benefit from them. (Nationwide, only 1 percent of students attend Exam Schools, while even Mensa allows the top 2 percent to join their high IQ society. So the need is desperate.)

Letting kids graduate high school when they are academically ready, and not based on some politically-motivated age cut-off or number of hours clocked (it’s like a prison sentence, you’re let out after you’ve served your time, regardless of whether anything was achieved) would free up more seats for more kids to take advantage of Specialized public high schools, which is exactly what those advocating for more diversity in admissions claim they want.

I’m willing to let my son be the guinea pig in this Brave New World experiment of possibly straying off the conventional educational path. Who wants to join us?

What do you think?

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