Pilot program could change traditional high school model

CORINTH — Six Mississippi schools districts have been invited to participate in a pilot program designed to give students options other than the traditional four-year track to a diploma.

The schools are Corinth, Tupelo, Jackson, Madison County, Gulfport and Clarksdale.

Corinth schools Superintendent Lee Childress tells The Daily Corinthian that the Mississippi Department of Education is enthusiastic about the program. He said the state is offering assurances that it will work to remove barriers to the program, such as funding and agreements that would be necessary with the community colleges.

“What they are proposing is modeled after what many countries are doing all across the world,” Childress told the local school board this week. “Many countries have changed the way they are providing a high school education, but we’re still providing a high school education the way you and I were educated.”

He said the Corinth district has a 77 percent graduation rate and 13 percent dropout rate.

“We know some children just aren’t going to go to school past 16 years of age, whether you or I like it or not,” said Childress.

Childress said the program is on a fast track with implementation targeted for the 2011-2012 school year.

A consortium of 12 states — the New England states and several others, including Mississippi, Kentucky, New Mexico and Arizona — are involved in the project. The Gates Foundation is providing $3.5 million to evaluate the model.

“I think it has a lot of potential.

“It will open up opportunities for children that will drop out. The second thing it will do is it will bring more rigor into the high school and ultimately into the seventh- and eighth-grade, because we’re going to have to do a better job preparing these children to meet possibly an international benchmark,” Childress said.

Childress said the system, based on the result of an exam taken at the end of the 10th grade, would give a student several options.

A student making a score showing the equivalent knowledge of four years of high school study could take that certificate or diploma — the terminology is yet to be decided — and enter a community college program.

Childress said the student could also go straight into the work force. The student could also do dual enrollment, taking some high school courses along with community college courses.

Students interested in attending a four-year college institution would take the upper division of the exam. The system could benefit advanced students who lack only a couple of required credits by the time they reach their senior year and are not being challenged, Childress said.

Apart from those options, a traditional four-year diploma would continue to be available.

Childress anticipates students would participate in the new system in large numbers.

The Associated Press