Commentary: Public schools must immediately create K-12 associate degree schools for all students

Commentary: Public schools must immediately create K-12 associate degree schools for all students
October 19
03:05 2017

By Henry J. Pankey

Thousands of racially diverse early college students leave high school with an associate degree. These students are selected based on high academic achievement and their gifted and talented recognition.

However, this opportunity should be available for every child.

The recommended program of study includes advanced honors courses, vocational education, cutting edge technology, automation, and artificial intelligence. K-12 students are in class for approximately 14,000 hours. Customizing schedules based on individual interest, needs, strengths and weaknesses makes success a possibility.

This novel approach requires a rethinking of what is essential to adequately prepare students for the 21st century.  School administrators and guidance counselors will continue to create schedules, but the effective use of the most advanced technology can speed up the process with 100 percent accuracy.

In addition, students’ $1.4 trillion of college debt in 2017 requires an immediate corrective solution. This would not require additional funds, but demands a dramatic adjustment in how we schedule students and teachers’ use of time.

The public’s faith in schools is at an all-time low. A major revision is needed to prevent the middle class from abandoning public schools. It is not a secret confidence in public schools is on an ever-increasing downward trend. Religious, private and charter schools’ popularity is moving upward at a rapid pace.

Professional educators, parents, students and employers will likely support appreciate and get excited about a newly developed educational system which will grant an Associate Degree. Consequently, a child will only need to attend college two additional years for a degree. Both time and costs are cut by 50 percent. Public schools need an extraordinary and successful product to retain and win back its customers.

When motivated, scholars demonstrate the intelligence, stature, genius, and readiness required to meet rigorous academic challenges.  The advanced placement pupils will be rewarded with more than a higher-class rank and remote possibility of earning a scholarship to an elite college. An associate degree is the ultimate honor and gift needed to rekindle trust in public schools.

Although, some parents and students will opt for the traditional high school diploma, all deserve a choice. It is unrealistic to believe 100 percent of young people will attend college.  All our youth need marketable skills for jobs and careers.

Every year over 1.2 million students drop out of high school.  This tragedy happens every 26 seconds. Equally dismal, 35 percent quit college their freshman year.  This is unacceptable to a public displeased with the quality of our education system.

Many school improvement plans and revisions contain duplicate syllabuses under a generic name, longer hours and preparation to pass high stakes standardized tests. It is time to embrace college costs, higher education rigor and marketable skills for non-college bound students.

Change is uncomfortable and unpredictable. It is necessary to create the possibility the 14,000 hours students spend during K-12 classroom instruction will result in an associate degree. Graduation ensures poor, middle class and rich students have an equal opportunity to receive two years of college.

Imagine challenging geeks, and millennials unlimited accessibility to digital devices, the current school budgets and an assignment to rewrite a K-associate degree curriculum that must be completed in contemporary time allocated for a high school diploma. 

They may have the technological skills and capacity as well as the tech-savvy mindset needed to successfully prepare youth for the assumptive 21st century world of academics, jobs and careers. Their computer competency is a great asset.

Teachers are wonderful unsung heroes.  Americans are proud of our good nineteenth and twentieth century schools. They were crown jewels during their time. Our schools are newly challenged to keep up with the international education revolution and world of work

After 14,000 hours in K-12 schools, our children deserve an associate degree.  $1.4 trillion of college student debt is not necessary, sustainable or defensible.

Our children deserve a world-class education without super-sized debt.  If not now, when?

Henry J. Pankey is an author and retired educator; he was an assistant principal in Winston-Salem.

You can reach him at or 919-225-8596.

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