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A modern high school model for Maryland

If it isn't too traumatic, think back to your high school days. Often sleep deprived, you sat in class and listened to lectures on a subject of little interest to you but required for graduation and that you have avoided ever since. For homework, you memorized formulas you retained only long enough to pass tests. Very few internships or apprenticeships were offered, and you received little information about career pathways leading to employment opportunities. Perhaps you experienced "senior slump," during which you were less than fully productive (except for the extracurricular activities) because you only needed to pass English 4 in order to graduate.

If you think this scenario is referring to some bygone era, think again. Unfortunately, what is described here is, for many students across our nation, today's typical high school experience. Too many students see little relevance between their academic coursework and their prospects for the futures. Faced with the high cost of college and the prospect of years of student debt, too many of our students are tuning out and turning off. Over a year ago, The Baltimore Sun wrote about the large number of STEM job openings in Maryland and the difficulty employers were having in finding qualified graduates to fill those vacancies. It is past time for us to design and implement a new high school model that is innovative, technologically savvy and focused on the interrelatedness of knowledge and skill in the 21st century and which teaches grit and perseverance. American high schools must undergo a radical sea change if they are to maximize the potential of every student and meet the workforce needs of corporate America.

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Imagine high schools that no longer try to squeeze every student into a one-size-fits-all structure and aren't focused primarily on checking off a prescribed number of course credits in a prescribed number of subject areas. Instead, visualize high schools that embrace the latest research on the neuroscience of learning (how the adolescent brain learns) and actually prepare teachers to use methods and strategies based on this research to meet the unique needs of diverse learners. Envision high schools where every student learns to think critically, engages in collaborative problem solving and, most important, can apply knowledge to a variety of real world situations. Imagine high schools focused on project-based learning, not constrained by "bricks and mortar," but with enough flexibility where students routinely study off-campus through on-line courses, independent studies, internships and apprenticeships.

Envision high schools where college and career-readiness are not just buzz words but where the education and business communities are inextricably linked to support every student's progression along a chosen career trajectory. I want Maryland to lead the way in creating high schools where students passionate about a particular career path have greatly expanded exposure to relevant course work and job training that accelerate their movement toward portable credentialing. Imagine a marriage between higher education and business where both invest in a student by encouraging continuous learning through a series of "on-off" ramps that allow the student to move back and forth between advanced course work and on-the-job training in a progression that best serves that student's circumstances. I want Maryland's education system to create formal partnerships with high-profile companies so that no job remains unfilled for lack of a skilled worker.

I'm calling on every Marylander to join in critical conversations about the need to rethink and transform our high schools. Students, teachers, principals and parents must be given a strong voice in the redesign of the modern high school model. High schools, institutions of higher education and businesses must fully invest in this effort. Government officials must pass legislation to break down barriers and to create maximum flexibility to implement innovation.

I am confident that all of these constituencies want to be part of the process of advising, formulating and realizing high schools for the 21st century's vast possibilities.

Global competition is a reality. A skilled workforce is the key. Join me in making Maryland's education system the fuel that ignites a thriving and growing economy. Our students deserve this best chance for a bright future.

Nancy S. Grasmick is a presidential scholar at Towson University and a former Maryland superintendent of schools. Her email is ngrasmick@towson.edu.

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