A reader asks my opinion on the "bleak" future of High Plains Tech, the current incarnation of AIM High. Superintendent Vince Schaefer told the Madison Central school board last week that the state and federal funds are drying up, and we apparently can't sustain the program on our own, which means we'll be sending a number of cranky 17- and 18-year-olds back to the regular high school classroom to serve out their legislatively imposed sentence (which Russell Olson voted for, by the way).
I feel some ambivalence here. On the one hand, some kids just don't succeed in the traditional high school setting. Beating them over the head with the same approach every day is mostly futile. But if South Dakota doesn't have a constitutional obligation to maintain separate schools for Hutterites, what obligation does it have to maintain separate schools for other students are unable or unwilling to make progress in the standard educational setting offered by the taxpayers?
In response to a question about AIM High during last year's school board campaign, I said that we have to be open to all possibilities and look for the best solution for all students. The best thing for all students would be to provide one-on-one instruction in a comfortable, free-flowing setting, preferably with lots of windows, where each student has significant freedom to pursue her own interests at her own pace. Alas, we don't have the resources to ten-tuple our teaching staff (that's a conservative estimate) and demolish the current high school building to make room for building an open, modern learning center from scratch. We could disband the K-12 public education system, use the state education budget to build a statewide wireless Internet hotspot based on the existing K-12 network, and provide curriculum and tutors online to support statewide home school... but with both parents working in 70-plus percent of South Dakota households, we don't have the workforce for that, either.
We are thus stuck with the assembly-line, mass-production model of education: run all the kids through the same curriculum, the same graduation requirements, the same standardized tests, the same regimented daily and semesterly schedule. Legislators and voters apparently don't trust our teachers and administrators with the resources it would take to do any more. We get what we pay for: cookie-cutter education that fails to meet the needs of ever more students.
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