In the New York Times, Diane Ravitch - as is her wont - yells "Stop!" to the tide of governors, policy wonks, and technology moguls who have recently fingered high schools as the weak link in American K-12 education. Not that she thinks high schools are doing their job: standards and achievement remain appallingly low, and the present-day comprehensive high school "tries and fails to be all things to all students." But, she notes, "you have to consider what high schools are dealing with. When American students arrive as freshmen, nearly 70 percent are reading below grade level. . . . It is hardly fair to blame high schools for the poor skills of their entering students." In fact, Ravitch notes, high schools are in some ways better than primary schools, since high school teachers are more likely to be teaching in their area of expertise. Instead of focusing solely on high schools, Ravitch concludes, we ought to be raising standards throughout the entire K-12 system, so that students enter high schools with the skills they need to succeed there, in higher education, and in the workplace. Ravitch also raises doubts about the Gates Foundation's small-schools initiative and endorses a high school reform plan from the National Association of Scholars (see here) that would create separate "college-prep" and "technical" tracks for high school students, bound together by a high-quality core curriculum in English, math, science, and history.
"Failing the wrong grades," by Diane Ravitch, New York Times, March 15, 2005