Teaching Profession

Sizer Urges Alternative Route to High-School Diploma

By Lynn Olson — November 06, 1985 2 min read
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New York--Expressing concern about the direction in which state reforms of high-school education are headed, a noted educator has proposed that the Educational Testing Service, the College Board, and the American Council on Education form a commission at the national level to create and administer a “demanding, realistic alternative route toward a high-school diploma.”

Speaking at the ets’s annual conference late last month, Theodore R. Sizer, chairman of the education department at Brown University and author of Horace’s Compromise, proposed that in place of traditional school attendance, students be allowed to qualify for high-school graduation by successfully completing what he called a “secondary-school leaving exhibition.”

This exhibition would include a combination of such elements as paper-and-pencil tests, oral interviews, extended problem-solving exercises, presentations of individual or group portfolios, and written essays.

If a student successfully completed this documentation of skills and knowledge, that alone would constitute the basis for a diploma, Mr. Sizer said.

Although he first proposed awarding students diplomas on the basis of such “exhibitions” in Horace’s Compromise, his speech at the ets conference marked the first time Mr. Sizer has advocated placing such exhibitions under the auspices of national organizations.

‘Worse’ Alternatives

The secondary-school leaving exhibition is “a frightening idea,” Mr. Sizer acknowledged. He noted that it would be costly, difficult to devise, and even more difficult to administer. And because it could not claim to be totally objective, he added, it would most likely be the target of “endless litigation.” But he contended that the alternatives are “even worse.”

In particular, Mr. Sizer argued, the exhibition could help combat the increasingly “centralized control of schools” by providing an alternative standard to those set by the states.

Although the current reform efforts of many political leaders at the state level stem from “well-intentioned dismay” at the “sponginess and often appalling incompetence” of existing schools, said Mr. Sizer, “their remedy merely begets another disease.”

Moving educational decisionmaking to state capitals, he warned, could result in “an overwhelming politicization” of the curriculum at a level removed from the involvement of average citizens.

Mr. Sizer also contended that his exhibition proposal would appeal to proponents of “choice” because students could take a variety of paths to complete their education, and only the evaluation instrument would be standard. “It provides an acceptable common finish line to races run over differing routes,” he stated.

Pilot Project

A version of the proposal is being tested by the Coalition of Essential Schools, of which Mr. Sizer is chairman. Students in the coalition’s 11 high schools will be awarded diplomas on the basis of a series of “mini exhibitions” culminating in a final exhibition.

Gregory R. Anrig, president of the ets, said that the Sizer proposal is “refreshing” but declined to indicate whether the ets would pursue it.

A version of this article appeared in the November 06, 1985 edition of Education Week as Sizer Urges Alternative Route to High-School Diploma


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