If I Ran a High School


As my two kids progressed through public high school I launched numerous dinner table discussions with the same six words. Now that it's graduation time, I'm going take one last crack at starting that way.

If I ran a high school...

...I'd make the demands of the school day fewer, and the school year longer. Kids don't have enough time to think straight let alone juggle classes, clubs, sports, homework and family, and still get 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night, which most experts believe is necessary. At our high school in Carmel, Calif., they're now considering starting classes an hour later, at 8:45 a.m., based on numerous studies showing teens don't function best at an earlier hour. Incredibly, there is even research showing that teens have fewer accidents just getting to school if the bell rings later.

Yet, the U.S. is falling behind, and a cue can be taken from nations that have a shorter summer break. More 10-day vacations rather than two or three months off would be better than the current American approach.

...I'd cut down on homework, particularly the busy-work kind, even in AP and honors classes. I'd also command teachers to coordinate tests so they don't pile up on the same days.

...Speaking of honors classes, I'd fix the problem some schools face with a "weighted" grade-point system that forces high achievers to opt out of electives - such as music or journalism - because even an "A" in those classes would lower their GPA.

...I'd give more time for a healthy lunch (our kids got 35 minutes). And I'd forbid clubs and other school groups from holding meetings at lunch, which serve to reduce meals to a few hasty bites.

...I'd see to it that all students in all grades have organized exercise daily, unless they play a team sport, in which case I'd place them in a special study hall where they can catch up on homework.

...I'd insist that loaded backpacks not be so heavy. The potential back strain won't necessarily show up for years, when it's too late. I see that a high school in Clearwater, Fla., is going to distribute Kindle e-readers to its 2,100 students, with all textbook content loaded on the single lightweight device.

...However, I'd prohibit cell phones and other personal communication devices in classes. It astonishes me that some teachers allow texting in the classroom.

...I'd stop kids who do poorly in class from "making up" the credits by taking virtually useless online courses run by outside companies.

...I'd be more conscientious about controlling the cost to each family for what is presumed to be a "free" public school education. If gym shorts cost $20, a yearbook $75, a field trip $170, an athlete fee $100, etc., then pretty soon free schooling isn't so free. The school board in Brooksville, Fla., just vetoed a music trip to Scotland for which each student was going to be charged $6,000.

...I'd require students in band and orchestra to wear earplugs. Studies have shown how high volume affects kids' hearing; one study even revealed that many music teachers suffer serious hearing loss without protection.

...I'd end the practice of allowing seniors to leave school early each day if they have sufficient credits for graduation. High school isn't college, and 12th graders should have the same length work day as every other student.

...Maybe I have a professional bias, but I'd see to it that every school library carries several daily newspapers. And no matter how much technology the library acquires, I'd insist that for the foreseeable future it also continues to have actual printed books.

...Finally, I'd seek to reduce the stress that comes with college applications and admissions. A four-year college education at an expensive, big-name institution isn't worth making a student an emotional wreck during four years of high school.

As it happens, I'm not an administrator or teacher or anyone responsible for implementing these changes. In fact, as of next month I'm not even a high school parent. So I'm leaving these notes with you, while I strike up a dinner conversation about what I'd do if I ran a college...

© Peter Funt. This column was first distributed by Cagle Cartoon Syndicate.

Index of Previous Columns