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Michigan Board's Proposal Would Provide Youths a Shortcut to College

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Michigan 10th and 11th graders who passed a state exam would have the option of enrolling in college, under a proposal put forward by the state board of education.

The state board last month overwhelmingly endorsed the plan, which requires legislative approval. Under the unusual proposal, high school students who passed the test could receive public funding for their continued education at a community college or public four-year college or university.

"If students who are 16 years old can elect to drop out of school, I think they should be able to elect to select a program that meets their needs,'' Superintendent of Public Instruction Robert E. Schiller said last week.

Mr. Schiller said the proposal has been forwarded to Gov. John Engler, whose office the board has asked to work with the legislature to develop necessary changes in state law.

The superintendent also has asked the state attorney general's office for an opinion on whether state funds could be provided to students who elected to leave high school early to attend a private institution.

Mr. Schiller said he consulted with several education groups in developing the college-option plan. But Jack D. Bittle, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, said his organization "strongly'' opposes it.

"They are virtually saying there is nothing in high school worth learning past the sophomore year,'' Mr. Bittle said last week.

"So far, I have not found anyone who is able to convince me that it is advantageous to send a 15-year-old off to college,'' he added. "There is a lot of socialization and growing up that happens, as well as the academic things, during that time.''

Individual Education Accounts

The proposal would give 10th and 11th graders who successfully complete a state proficiency examination that will be required in a few years for graduation several options beyond staying in their high school, provided they also meet all local graduation requirements.

Students could continue their high school education in another district, enroll simultaneously in a public high school and a community college, or attend a postsecondary institution full time.

"Basically, this grows out of the fact that the Governor and the state board have a commitment to schools of choice and offering as many options and opportunities as we can to our students,'' Mr. Schiller said.

Students who enrolled in public institutions of higher education ahead of schedule would be credited with Individual Education Accounts for each year until their high school classes graduated.

The amount in the accounts, to be used to pay tuition, would equal either the per-pupil spending in the student's district of residence or the actual tuition cost of the receiving higher-education institution, whichever was less.

"We are not saying kids should shorten their education,'' Mr. Schiller said. "What we are doing instead is encouraging them to further their learning.''

Use of Test Questioned

Mr. Bittle of the principals' group said he also objected to the board's decision to base the college option on the state proficiency exam. A 1991 law requires all students in the class of 1997 and beyond to pass the test in order to graduate.

Mr. Bittle said the test, slated to be offered for the first time in 1995, was designed to measure whether students have acquired certain basic academic skills--not whether their high school education is complete.

Chris Pipho, the director of state relations for the Education Commission of the States, pointed to one issue not addressed so far in the Michigan proposal--parent involvement in the student's decision. That question severely complicated the implementation of early-exit plans in California and Florida, which experimented with the idea in the 1970's, he noted.

Parents feared children would take the tests to exit from school without their knowledge, Mr. Pipho said.

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