Ditching High School

“I didn’t go to high school. This I think of as one of my proudest accomplishments and one of my greatest escapes…” A few months ago Harper’s Magazine published an article by Rebecca Solnit titled “Abolish High School.” After a brief introduction (started by the words quoted above), she tells about the circumstances that propelled her from junior high school straight to college.

Solnit starts with her early adolescence as a “withdrawn, bookish kid” undergoing middle-school miseries. “As I left campus at the end of my first day, people shouted insults that ensured I knew my clothes didn’t cut it.” She disliked the classes with an equal measure – “At least the old history teacher in the plaid mohair sweaters let me doze in the front row, so long as I knew the answers when asked.”

Solnit switched to an alternative junior high where she completed tenth grade, and chose not to continue on to high school. After a few, far more pleasurable years there, she decided to skip high school, which she feared would be another sterile area for intellectual growth. “I passed the G.E.D. test at fifteen, started community college the following fall, and transferred after two semesters to a four-year college, where I began, at last, to get an education commensurate with my appetite.”

No longer can an ambitious Californian of 15 take the GED. The GED Testing Service website now states this rule for residents of California: “You must be 18 years of age or older or within 60 days of your 18th birthday.” California offers an alternative – the California High School Proficiency Exam – for those who are 16 years or older, or have finished their sophomore year. That said, “Passing the CHSPE does not, by itself, exempt minors from attending school. Minors who have a Certificate of Proficiency must also have verified parent/guardian permission to stop attending school.”

A now popular way to skip high school while preparing for college is to convince a parent to register you as homeschooled. Sage Ryan made headlines when he got into UC Berkeley at age 15. His method, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, involved dropping out of middle school and having his parents register him for homeschooling. His mother says that “Anybody can do it” – regardless of teaching credentials. While “homeschooling”, Sage Ryan took online college courses and pursued acting opportunities. By 15 he had earned enough college credits to transfer into UC Berkeley as a Junior, and had a resume which showed him to be a decent student and accomplished actor. The State Universities in California do not require a diploma or equivalency test (the CSU system allows for exceptions to be judged case-by-case, and UC’s don’t require diplomas), but do demand a set of required classes be taken – these are commonly called the A-G requirements.

These requirements are not particularly daunting: 4 years of English, 3 years of Math, 2 of a foreign language, 2 of “laboratory sciences” (Chemistry, Biology, or Physics), 2 years of History/social science, 1 year of a “visual and performing art”, and 1 year of a “college-preparatory elective.” Instead of taking a class, students can also submit scores from standardized tests – example, a 550 or higher on the U.S. History SAT Subject Exam qualifies you as having taken a year of US History. The accepted tests are A.P.’s (a score of three or better is necessary), SAT Subject Tests (Mid to lower 500’s, varied by subject), and International Baccalaureate exams (scores of 5, 6, and 7 are accepted).

Furthermore, there are other ways to get accepted to UCs – they allow for “Admission by Exception” so long as you explain why you were unable to fulfill the requirements. “Admission by Exam” is also advertised, but requires exceptionally high standardized test scores, in either the SAT or the ACT. Keep in mind – these are competitive spots. There are 12-year-old geniuses fighting for them.

Students who have attended high school for at least two years can find options in private colleges or out of state public universities without having to complete California’s course requirements or earn exceptionally high standardized test scores. Many such schools invite high school juniors to apply. One, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, targets 10th and 11th graders. From their website: “We’re the only full-time, four year, highly ranked college of the liberal arts and sciences designed for motivated students ready for college after the 10th or 11th grade.”

Leon Botstein, the President, explains one of the rationales for early college on the Simon’s Rock website: “[Our society] delay[s] a serious engagement with intellectual material - science, art, literature, history - too long. And, so, when they arrive at college at eighteen, in my view, we have lost some of the best years of the life of a young person who wants to learn.”

Does it work? Can students miss two years of high school and still be successful?

One way to examine that is to look where the Simon’s Rock students are going. Simon’s Rock awards AA’s and BA’s. More than half transfer out after earning an AA, and Simon’s Rock publishes a list of its top twenty transfer schools. On this list are several Ivy League Schools (Cornell, Brown, and Columbia) and other well known names (ex. Stanford).

In College Without High School: A Teenager's Guide to Skipping High School and Going to College Blake Boles focuses on students who have parents willing to homeschool their child. He preaches “unschooling,” which equates to a program of homeschooling and the rigorous pursuit of a passion designed to appeal to selective four year colleges. It requires that the parent say their child is being homeschooled, but Boles makes an argument that this sort of results-focused, passion-driven education is what colleges want to see. A standard high school curriculum ends up being replaced by internships, summer camps, volunteer work, travel, college classes and other “adventures.”

To show that it works, Boles offers some success stories. To follow the common thread, the students start homeschooling a little before high school, take community college courses, and focus on extracurriculars, jobs, and internships which are related to their “passion.” A few of the most recognizable institutions attended by Boles’ examples were Princeton, New York University, and Carnegie Mellon.

Mendocino College is fairly supportive of underage students who want to take classes. “Mendocino College admits a limited number of pre-high and high school students who may then enroll in up to 11 units per semester.” Also worth noting: As “Special Admit students” pre-high and high school students “are exempted from paying the enrollment fee.”

And, for those who lack parents willing to homeschool them, or do not have a passion they are willing to commit to, or simply enjoy high school, there are still other ways a student can start college before finishing high school. California high school students have the opportunity to jump the threshold between college and high school (graduation) by taking online college courses in addition to high school curriculum. AVHS encourages this by awarding bonus high school credit for each college credit received. Students at AVHS are, however, still required to take five on-campus classes during each of their four years and cannot shorten their number of years in high school. Rancheria High School offers an “accelerated program” for high school students and draws students who “are in a hurry to finish high school.” More specifics are unavailable online, and Rancheria did not return my calls.

I am not trying to encourage a race-to-college atmosphere among the students in Anderson Valley. Early college is not as appealing to some as to others. High school happens only once – for some that is sad news, for others a blessing. This is for the student who wishes to move on with their education.

(John Ulysses Keevan Lynch went to Elementary School in Anderson Valley and is an intern at the Advertiser.)

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