Pro/Con: Eliminating senior year

March 31, 2010, 8:34 p.m. | By Ava Wallace, Rose Wynn | 12 years, 8 months ago

Is the 12th grade "senior slump" year a waste of money?

To cut costs in the Cottonwood Heights education system, Senator Chris Buttars (R - Utah) suggested statewide elimination of senior year in public high school. He dubbed 12th grade a year of "nothing but playing around" and advised lawmakers not to waste their bucks on slacking seniors. Instead, Buttars advocated encouraging 11th grade students to finish high school early if they have completed the necessary number of credits.

While some juniors feel they have completed high school and are ready to engage in bigger and better things come senior year, others feel 12th grade provides essential opportunities and time for mental, social and intellectual development that boosts performance in higher education and beyond. Are we wasting our government resources by funding 12th grade, when it is often nothing more than a year for senior slump?

Ava says YES: Making senior year optional is a practical way to cut costs for school systems and improve educational options for students.

Earlier this year, Utah senator Chris Buttars proposed one of the most controversial solutions for a school district's debt since the beginning of the recession. His plan is to make senior year optional for high school students through a program called "accelerated graduation," according to ABC News. Buttars's proposal presents various monetary benefits for both families and the school system while accommodating students' individual academic needs. In short, Buttars' plan is an effective way to cut costs without sacrificing the caliber of education that students deserve, a quality that not all money-saving plans can boast.

The accelerated graduation program gives students the option of testing out of lower-level core classes and electives and leaving high school after junior year to either attend community college or a four-year university or take a gap year. But in presenting his plan, Buttars' dismissal of senior year as a "waste of time" earned him vehement opponents.

Families involved in the school system claim that as a senior, their child would not be ready to leave high school. But the beauty of Buttars' plan is that students will be able to chose whether to continue with high school or not – meaning if, for whatever reason, a student and his or her parents feel unprepared for post-high school life, the student can graduate on the traditional four-year schedule. Additionally, skipping out on senior year isn't uncommon; kids are already allowed to graduate early provided that they have their required credits completed. And plans like Buttars' have previously been implemented in eight states around the country – just none as widespread or fiscally beneficial as the senator's.

The proposal was pitched mainly as a monetary solution for Utah schools' massive $700 million debt. Accelerated graduation will save the school systems about $60 million and eliminate the need to lay off about 200 teachers in the district, according to ABC. Because fewer students will be attending high school, there will be more materials to go around and class sizes will shrink, a precious rarity in this economy.

Not only is the accelerated graduation plan appealing because of its pecuniary benefits, but also it better suits individual students' needs than our current system. By making senior year optional, Buttars' plan also encourages students to test out of certain subjects and lower-level classes. Students will be able to better use their time in school and earn credit based on merit, not the amount of time they spend in a classroom.

Buttars' proposal for accelerated graduation give students a choice about their academic career, allows them to take more meaningful classes and saves school districts and families significant amounts of money. While senior year certainly isn't always a "waste of time," making senior year optional is a viable way to better our school systems and our students.

Rose Wynn says NO: A fourth year of high school allows students more leadership experience, academic preparation, social interaction and mental maturity before entering the job market or schools of higher education.

Senior year is essential for emotional, social and mental preparation for the college experience - it is the prime time for maturity and development in academics and extracurricular activities. Leadership opportunities only present themselves after students exhibit extensive experience, active participation and dedication, and such circumstances rarely present themselves before senior year.

Time and practice are also key to success on important standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT. Keeping students in high school for a full four years will facilitate the development of necessary test-taking skills and knowledge to perform better on college entrance exams.

Former Michigan Senator and current University President William Sederburg noted another problem: students are already arriving at college without the basic academic skills necessary for success. "What we're finding is that about half our students are not prepared for mathematics at the college level and almost a third are not prepared in writing skills," he said. John Balden, President of the Utah chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, noticed the same trend. "In higher education, we find an awful lot of students unprepared for college. Twelfth grade is really a necessary grade."

Even if a student successfully receives the appropriate number of credits to graduate by the end of 11th grade, another year of high school will allow the student to further explore their academic interests. Taking Advanced Placement classes can push academically inclined students to challenge themselves and allow them to gain valuable credit for college. Taking on leadership positions or extensive community service work can also match the strengths of those who may already be prepared for post-high school life at a younger age.

Eliminating senior year is also unwise for practical reasons. Poulson said it may complicate the admissions process by introducing discrepancies among academic institutions - not all universities may willingly accept someone just 16 years old. Eleventh grade students are simply not at the maturity level of college freshmen and won't be as socially or intellectually capable to thrive in a college environment.

But in all honesty, the "senior slump" stereotype on which Senator Buttars focused his argument is a demeaning and pessimistic generalization. "Students don't just play in 12th grade. They really do study," Balden said. Buttars' assumption that seniors are "just running around taking P.E." is oversimplified and unfair.

While Buttars may have a point about his proposal's potential to account for $102 million in the school system's budget deficit, there are several other creative ways to decrease spending in today's economic crisis. The Minnesota MACCRAY (a conjunction of the phrase Maynard Clara City Raymond) school district eliminated a day from their normal five-day school week, which decreased school bussing costs, according to ABC news. Although this act is extreme, other counties have made several small cuts across the board in areas such as class size, teacher hiring and spending that have made a big difference.

Regardless of economic circumstances, the chance for academic and leadership growth should bring motivated college-bound students back to high school for senior year. Seventeen-year olds still need the academic opportunities, social interaction and time for mental development their senior year provides in order to leave high school fully prepared to succeed.

Ava Wallace. More »

Rose Wynn. I love piña coladas, getting caught in the rain and the ladies of the Blair Pom Squad. More »

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