SEMESTERING IS NOT IN THE BEST INTEREST OF OUR STUDENTS
The Fraser Institute has recently ranked Ontario Secondary schools in Math and Literacy. I was interested in checking the ranking of the Thames Valley students. Out of 740 high schools in the province London Central High School once again ranked in the top ten; sixth out of 740.
One could argue that social demographics are the raison díetre why Cental students do very well. Letís compare for a moment Oakridge scoring at 72nd & St Thomas Aquinas at 187th . These three schools draw from a very similar social/economic base. Our Lord Dorchester students scored 193 out of 740. schools in the province.
The Central students are not brighter, harder working then other students in the London and area. Medway student used to as well as Central when they were a two day school but now that they have the semester system they do not/ can not compete on an unfair playing field.
So why the difference in scores ? Answer: Central is the only secondary school in the area that has the two day schedule of classes.
I have been arguing the benefits of ten month schooling for many years and the administrations does not seem to get it. The semester system is not in the best interest of our students.
I surmise that why some of Ontarioís most expensive, prestigious expensive private schools students that I have counselled from Upper Canada College, Havergal, Appleby and Lakefield are not semestered.
Teens do not mature a year in the five months of a semester and the failure and subsequent absentee rate is much higher in the semestered schools.
Sure, there are a few advantages to the semester system : the schools in theory need only half the number of text books, The teachers like semestering with 90 vs 180 students to deal with and staffing is more flexible but the teachers often choose to send their own children to Central.
What is in it for the students for whom the semester schools are mandated to bring forth the best learning atmosphere? If you are in a hurry you can try and fast track and finish a semester early. If you fail a course you can try and take it over in the second semester if you can fit it into your schedule.
A youngster who is having difficulty in a semester school with a math course finds to his/her dismay that mid terms take place two months into the course and finals quickly follow. Illness, or family concerns can decimate any chance of success in the semester school system.
Registration is a concern in the semester schools. You register for next years courses not having completed their semester two program. If you take grade 11 Math in semester one it may be 12 months before you can schedule your grade 12 math. The administration will tell you that it does not matter. Sure.
The computer does not recognize hard from easy courses and yes it is very possible to have all your difficult courses in semester one. That is why students line up outside the Student Serviceís Office at the start of each semester to change their timetables, The harried counsellors do their best but often the courses are full or your course is not offered in semester two.
The Thames Valley students in the two day cycle programs at Central Collegiate learn to handle eight courses. Math every second day for the whole year sure helps the students to have the opportunity to absorb the material from September to June. Student failure subsequently is greatly reduced because the teacherís have the time for personal involvement and nurturing. Repetition and structure is needed and provided.
I guess that is why the parents and students fought so hard to keep Central a two day school, the only island for academic excellence in the area, where the school timetable is in the best interest of the students?
The semestered high school student is at a great disadvantage when they go on to attend university/college: they have never had to juggle more than four courses at one time. They find to their horror the university load has a minimum of five courses with up to seven courses in Engineering.
The question has to be asked, "Is the semester system in the best interest of our students or is it a cheaper, bureaucratic, convenience and thus pedagogically unsound? In my opinion the two day cycle is the reason that the Central students do very well compared to those who are semestered.
To be better informed parents should check out the web site www.compareranking.org
Len Lesser is an education/career counsellor in Dorchester.