Reform High Schools Through Student Scheduling

The present system for scheduling students into high school courses doesn’t work for students, teachers, high schools, or society. Very few high school students are being scheduled into a four-year sequence of career technical education. This creates an enormous group of unskilled and unemployable youth, who are prey to gangs and crime. High schools must be reformed to systematically address this serious problem. The key part of high school reform is the updating of the high school student scheduling process. The process of scheduling students is the key part of high school reform because it involves parents and because it requires a plan for student’s high school experience.

In the spring of student’s eighth grade, high school counselors come to the middle school to create schedules for the upcoming ninth grade school year. Today, far too many low and average achieving students are not being enrolled into a four-year sequence of career technical education or a career academy. This is more than a small disservice to these students. It fundamentally changes their lives. Instead of leaving high school as a skilled person seeking employment, they leave high school as unskilled people lost the streets. These are the school to prison people. The high schools are systematically failing these young people. The high school scheduling process is the heart of their failure.

This scheduling process must be reformed. The first change is that parents must be included in these scheduling meetings. Anyone involved in high schools in America is aware of that having parent involvement in their children’s education is essential. Because parents are sometimes unrealistic about their children’s academic potential, a system of placing students in courses is also essential. A new system is necessary to protect high school counselors and principals from unrealistic parents. This scheduling meeting is where the counselor’s role becomes essential. The counselor must share the student test scores and grades for their time in middle school with the students and their parents. The test scores and grades are the data that must guide counselors and parents to place the students in courses in high school. This is where there must be a system put in place created by the states. Parents must not feel that counselors or high schools are discriminating them against on any basis. The way to protect counselors and high schools is for states to require strict criteria that are published and clear for everyone to see. And of course in any complex process like this one there must be a system to protest the results of student scheduling.

The criteria for being placed into the college prep curriculum must be the equivalent of a B average in middle school and in the top third on national test scores. Students who fall into this group must be automatically placed in the college prep curriculum. The issue becomes more complicated regarding students who are close to the line in either grades or test scores. This is another place where state must protect high school counselors by providing standards so that the counselor is not abused by the parent or supportive community groups. I can imagine a system where students are placed on academic probation, similar to what colleges do, for students who fall between the top third and the top 40 percent on national test scores. These probationary students would have to maintain a B average in high school to stay in the college prep curriculum.

The system gets even more complicated when you consider students who are not competent in English and special education students. Clearly, there are bright students in both of these categories who must have an opportunity for college preparation. For the English learners, I envision Saturday instruction in English during their middle school experience as well as summer school to get them up to grade level. Special education students must receive accommodations to allow them to succeed both in the middle school and high school. We owe these students the remediation in English and accommodations to succeed at the highest level possible. From research, we can tell the success rate of these students in college prep is not very high. These kids, however, have a more complex situation that will require individual decisions with the high school counselors and a protest system with principals and school board.

We must face the reality that the tough part of this process is the high school counselor must be the gatekeeper by reviewing student success in high school. If the academic probation students, English learners, or special education students do not maintain a B average during high school, they must be dropped from this elite academic curriculum. It is an enormous disservice to the students, teachers, high school, and society to keep trying to push all students through a college prep curriculum. The supermajority of high school students requires an appropriate curriculum to help them survive after they leave high school and that is not college prep.

The appropriate curriculum for the supermajority of high school students is a four-year sequence of career technical education. For their protection, the academic probation students, English learners, and special ed students must all be immediately enrolled in a career technical education program in the ninth grade. We must all recognize the reality that many of these students will not succeed in a college prep curriculum. Therefore, it is essential that these particular students be enrolled in a career technical education program starting in the ninth grade. If they flunk out of the college prep curriculum, then they must take consumer math, physical science, nutrition, and parenting classes. These classes will help prepare students for employment and their lives after they leave high school. These classes would be good for all students, however the college prep curriculum in many cases precludes students from taking these courses.

We desperately need a system of scheduling high school students that protects counselors and high schools. This scheduling transaction is the essential piece of high school reform. Unless principals and counselors feel secure in the course scheduling process, then high school reform is impossible. We know 70 percent of high school students will not go on to graduate from college. Therefore, we owe them preparation for employment. This preparation means a four-year sequence of career technical education courses, preferably in a career academy. This means counselors must schedule students into this sequence of career technical education courses. In order for counselors to do this, they must feel that the entire educational system supports them.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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