New Hampshire Paves Way for Early Graduation

Published March 1, 2009

New Hampshire policymakers are rethinking the traditional four-year high school model in hopes of creating a more-rigorous curriculum.

Last autumn the state announced plans to design a new high school curriculum and a battery of state board exams to allow students to graduate after completing 10th grade. Those who do not pass the exam may stay enrolled and try again.

“We should have a rigorous curriculum that prepares students for college and/or the workforce in two years rather than four,” said Lyonel Tracy, commissioner for the New Hampshire Department of Education.

Lewis Andrews, executive director of the Yankee Institute, a think tank based in Hartford, Connecticut, has written policy briefs suggesting states go even farther with such programs by providing scholarships for students to attend community colleges.

“High school is much more than a learning institution—it is a fantasy about a certain lifestyle,” said Andrews. “There is nothing magical about four years [of high school].”

Better Education, Savings

The new assessment plan, linked to a new, tougher curriculum, is one of 10 sweeping changes suggested in “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” released in 2006 by the Washington, DC-based New Commission on Skills of the American Workforce.

The report calls for a complete overhaul of the U.S. educational system, which the authors declare was built “for another era.” Two other states—Utah and Massachusetts—also have announced plans to implement some of the commission’s proposals.

The New Hampshire Department of Education will begin by looking at international board examination reviews that assess students’ understanding of core subjects. Tracy said the process will begin with a pilot program in a few high schools.

In addition to providing better education and lowering the state dropout rate, Tracy said the new program should save New Hampshire taxpayers money, but he would not speculate about how much that might be. According to “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” early graduation plans could save the nation $60 billion a year.

Small Program in Place

New Hampshire students currently have access to the dual-enrollment program Running Start, which allows them to take classes for college credit at a reduced tuition rate while still in high school.

“We have over 3,000 enrollments already in that Running Start program. So this is expanding on what we are already doing,” said Tracy.

Georgia Geis ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.