This is a brilliant idea. In theory. The idea here is that high schools would follow a curriculum that would allow prepared students to leave high school after passing a series of exams to enroll in a community college.
*Kids who are motivated and ready don't need to sit around and wait for four years; they can get started with their basic college requirements. Twenty-five percent of all high school dropouts are gifted, and I believe one major reason gifted students drop out is boredom - dense, unrelenting boredom. Does this mean that only gifted kids would benefit? Nope. If fact, gifted does not equal motivated, so this program might still pass many capable students by.
*This could potentially cut college costs dramatically. Let's face it: the first two years of college are generally the same everywhere. You have a core of classes that are required until you can move into the meat of your degree. Community colleges are a cost-effective way to transition from high school to college; classes tend to be smaller and professors more available. Students can establish a GPA and easily transfer into a four-year college to finish their degree. This also gives students time to explore academics a bit and think about what they would actually like to study.
*Public schools are crowded and funding is being cut (or frozen, in the case of some programs like, oh, say, sepcial education, if the Senate gets their way); if even 20% of the student body is able to take advantage of leaving high school early, class sizes would be cut and teachers could focus on remediation.
*Smaller class sizes = teachers being fired. There is no guarantee that schools would keep their staffing levels; in this climate, more than likely teachers would be fired.
*There is also no guarantee that students will actually be ready for college after this curriculum. The evidence is that more and more students are not prepared, even after four years of high school (as many as 40% need at least one remedial class). Is this because public schools lack focus? Is it because we have dumbed down our curriculum K-8 so much that high school is a period of catching up, not looking ahead? And, if so, how will this new idea work?
*There is a serious danger that certain populations will be sent down this path, and others will be retained on the four-year path. Let's face it: we still live in a very segregated society, only now it deals with socioeconomic status. We cannot allow a promising program to deepen the divide between haves and have-nots.
There are many other potential positives (early entrance into workforce) and negatives (no jobs for those extra applicants), but this is definitely the type of reform we need to keep looking into. Public education is getting worse, and we need dramatic thinking to bring it back into focus. If we could somehow develop a country-wide educational mission statement to focus our reforms, that might help, but for now, we get these small epiphanic bursts of inspiration. Only time will tell if the are what we need, but they can't be worse than what we have now!