Are Tennessee high schools effectively preparing our students for college, life and career? As part of our expanded mission following a recent merger with Complete Tennessee, that’s a question the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) is seeking to answer and address.

With six out of ten job postings in Tennessee requiring the minimum of an associate degree — and only 43 percent of Tennesseans having earned that credential — it is imperative that we work more diligently to achieve the state’s Drive to 55 goal. In pursuit of that goal — and as part of our newly expanded mission to increase college completion rates — SCORE has produced What High School Could Be, a report that examines the inadequacies of our current high school model and invites bold ideas on how to improve it.

Over the last year, SCORE has invested deeply in learning about innovative high school models. As part of an October 2018 listening tour, we visited public high schools across Tennessee to learn how they are taking steps to better engage, educate and prepare students. This new report offers a glimpse at how several Tennessee high schools — and a pair of school districts in Texas and California — are reimagining the high school model. From project-based learning and real-life work experience to career academies and middle college partnerships, we look at schools that are taking steps to find better ways to prepare our high school students.

While Tennessee’s high school graduation rate and college test scores have reached record highs, research shows that four out of ten Tennessee students are reaching the college campus unprepared for college-level work. Even though the Tennessee Promise last-dollar scholarship program has led to a record number of students entering college, fewer than half of them make it to college graduation. 

Job and workforce statistics suggest that our current high school model is a relic of the past, designed for a time when most high schoolers went to work immediately after graduation. But many of these jobs no longer exist. Times have changed. The workforce has changed. So, too, must our high schools.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer, as the report shows, but it makes clear we must expand our idea of what high school is to imagine what it could become. The programs in the report invite us to think outside the box, to envision programs, plans, and models that can improve the education experience for our students and better prepare for them professional, personal, and civic life.

In addition to releasing this report, we also hosted a SCORE Institute to discuss key insights with educators and business leaders. Keynote speaker Dr. Sarah Fine, educator and co-author of In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School, discussed her visits to high schools across the country and shared what she has learned from her study of the issue. We hope this discussion and the release of this report will be just the beginning of a broader and ongoing conversation on this topic.

For 10 years, SCORE has been working with partners in education, advocacy, and philanthropy to build a more robust and academically rigorous K-8 educational experience for Tennessee students. As the first students to benefit from those improved standards enter high school soon, we owe it to them to ensure that their high school experience is just as academically sound. Just as SCORE has reimagined its goals and mission, it’s time to reimagine how we educate our high school students. We invite you to read the report and boldly imagine with us.

Diane Hughes is communications manager at SCORE.

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