Monday, May 02, 2011


Three Flavors of Dual Enrollment

A few years ago, at a job interview in another state -- it would have been the worst fit ever, but I didn’t know that at the time -- I ran across a program in which the local community college more or less gives its syllabi to local high schools, and allows the local high school faculty to teach their courses for college credit. (Of course, the students have to pay tuition to the cc.) It flew under the banner of “dual enrollment.”

I was appalled, though for courtesy sake I tried to keep the cursing to a minimum. I asked the group how they ensure quality control. There might as well have been crickets in the room.

This model of dual enrollment has caught on in the last five to ten years. The term “dual enrollment” is much older than that, but its meaning has been corrupted.

In its original incarnation, dual enrollment was a practice of allowing high-achieving high school students to take college-level courses for both high school and college credit. The prototypical dual enrollment student was the “Honors” kid who had maxed out the high school’s math offerings, and who would take higher math at the local cc in his senior year of high school. (More recently, some home-schoolers have contracted with local cc’s for specialized classes for which they lack the expertise -- like Spanish -- or facilities, like chemistry.) In this version of dual enrollment, the idea was that college courses were ‘harder’ than high school courses, but that some kids were so far ahead of the curve that keeping them at the high school level was just pointless. By allowing a small number of high achievers to take a few selected classes for dual credit, we were able to serve a real educational need without imperiling the mission of the college.

In this version of dual enrollment, very few people at the college had an issue. The program was relatively small, the students were strong, and the logistical issues -- usually around transportation -- were manageable. The concept acquired a good reputation.

Recently, though, a new version of dual enrollment has emerged. In this version, dual enrollment isn’t just for the high achieving student. Depending on the program, it may be for just about everyone, or it may be -- counterintuitively enough -- specifically for the weakest students.

In the “everyone” version, the idea is to replace the last year or two of high school -- widely acknowledged to be an academic wasteland -- with the first year or two of college. Those who tout this version point out the time and cost savings to the student; some colleges have seemingly bought in, seduced by the promise of a mighty river of tuition.

In the “weakest students” version, the program is pitched as “dropout prevention.” (Some of the Gates Foundation activities fall into this category.) The idea is to remove ‘at risk’ students from a dysfunctional environment and to place them in a college setting, where, the theory goes, the combination of climate change and revealed possibility will snap them out of their downward spirals.

Though it will never apply to very many, I liked the first version of dual enrollment, and would be happy to see it continue. If some high school sophomore has already blasted through BC Calculus and is itching for more, I’m happy to offer a seat in our upper-level calculus sequence. The math department loves those students, and I don’t see much social purpose served in having them just circle the airport for the last year or two of high school.

But I have serious reservations about the second and third versions.

The second strikes me as rebranding high school. If the starting point of the argument is the pointlessness of the junior and senior years of high school, then the obvious remedy is to improve the junior and senior years of high school. Based on what we’ve seen at the cc level nationally, I can attest that one issue we absolutely do not have is a surfeit of hyper-prepared students. It’s not like they’re so thoroughly prepared by the end of their sophomore year that they can just coast. If anything, they’re still underprepared for college when they graduate. Given that, it seems to me that beefing up the academic content of the last two years of high school is the obvious fix. When the students run out of AP classes their junior year, then talk to me about mass-scale dual enrollment. Until then, I don’t see it.

The third is well-intentioned, but a little strange. Kids who are struggling academically in high school will suddenly excel when placed in developmental classes at a community college? And what message does it send to the average or above average kids in high school when they’re left behind? The argument I can see for this approach, at least in theory, is the development of a new peer group with new expectations, but that won’t happen with developmental coursework.
The whole concept seems backwards. I’m all for anything that helps struggling kids find their way, but this just seems likely to backfire.

Community colleges are colleges. I understand the temptation to try to be everything to everyone, but at the end of the day, they serve the community best by being colleges. If the high schools need fixing, then the high schools need fixing.

I think your ordering got mixed up in the last couple of paragraphs.

I did a class or two through dual-enrollment to graduate at the end of my junior year. The school had no AP courses, and I'd basically just run out of options. I'm glad they let me go without too much of a fight.

I understand your concern about DE for kids at risk of dropping out, and results would surely be mixed, but you know--there just might be something to it for those who would get to college and spend who knows how many semesters taking remedial courses that didn't count toward graduation. Maybe it would be a little less frustrating if it didn't seem like an extra year or two tacked on to make up for a high school's shortcomings.
If you know of a college that is giving credit for classes taught by HS teachers who lack the usual 18 graduate credits in the content area, you should report them to their accrediting agency.

Question for DD: does your college accept AP math credit with a "3"?

I'm not happy with some of the students who come in with AP credit because they seem to think that taking one year to learn 14 weeks of material is a college pace.

Research question: Are kids better or worse off if pushed through a minimal algebra and trig class so they can "take" AP calc in high school but don't manage to pass the AP exam? I see suggestions that this group of students lack fluency in algebra, have never done a word problem, and know almost no geometry.

I am conflicted about pushing developmental ed into the high schools where it belongs. I think giving our placement test to juniors is a great idea because it might signal that those are HS skills they need to master if they want to go to college. At present, they blame us and our test when they show up with a worthless diploma and place into HS (or middle school) math. Who teaches those classes is less important than that they leave HS prepared to pass "college" algebra (algebra 2) if they aren't leaving with just a Vo Tech certificate.

I think DD's point is that if high schools were doing their jobs in the first place, colleges wouldn't need to teach remedial math.
If the high school teacher is good enough to teach college-level content, that should be reflected through students taking and passing AP tests.

But what I see at far too many schools (in particular, smaller rural schools) is that AP courses are offered and either virtually no one passes the test or virtually no one even bothers taking the test (probably because there is a history of no one passing). That seems like prima facie evidence that the HS teacher is not really qualified to teach college level content under a dual enrollment system.
My high school didn't teach any outright AP classes, but we did have a "College English" class that was offered for college credit. It was selective, and I couldn't get in. However, I did kick arse with math and science, and managed to take a full load of math and science classes at the nearest community college. Since "nearest" was 90 miles away, I asked how I was supposed to finish my English requirement for HS graduation. Response: "Although our local College English is selective, for EEO reasons, anybody who wants to take it at the nearest technical college can. Because we offer it to everybody, you can take it at your community college without an issue."

So basically, and I think CCPhysicist alludes to this, we've been having high school teachers teach classes for college credit for quite awhile, and I'm not referring to AP/IB here.
either way, i don't see how one way is better/worse from a quality control standpoint. it's still a high school teacher teaching a college course.

colleges are just as guilty. almost all of my senior level courses in college were slashlisted with grad school students, where both students took the course, but the grad students had to do about 10% more homework. if colleges will slashlist courses, i don't see how they could huff about teaching college curriculum in high school.
It ain't just cc's. We're also moving in that direction (in fact, I have just been asked to look at a syllabus for a high school econ course to see whether it would be acceptable for dual credit).

Interestingly, as it happens, many of the people teaching as part-timers for us also teach high school courses (especially comp courses). So we're willing to accept their credentials and teaching skills in an on-campus setting...
I agree with DD in the first case. If you are really that bright then you shouldn't be held back. Good for you. Have fun.

In the second two cases, I also agree. In the first, then what's the point of HS anyway? And in the second, what sort of data do you have to prove that a new climate will help?

I took AP in HS. English and History. Got out of a couple classes in college. My HS had a very high pass rate on all our AP tests. I know some don't. However, even if students aren't passing/aren't taking the tests. Perhaps the challenge of the coursework is better for them than no challenge at all. (Most colleges have moved to 4's and higher as the only allowable scores.)

College shouldn't do high school's job. I think we need to reevaluate what kind of math/english/science etc we really need to teach. Why on earth was I forced into pre-calc when I DON'T ever use it in real life. I knew that at 16, I wasn't going into a math heavy field. Why toture me? I only needed stats in college. Had to take the placement test due to SAT scores in math but placed into calc. Let's look at what our kids really need to learn.
I agree. If junior and senior years of HS are a total waste for most students -- a concept I am very sympathetic to -- then the proper response is to end high school at 10th grade in a general sense, not pawn its uselessness off onto the CCs.
I'm coming at this from a math-specific perspective, because that's what I'm familiar with. I can see a good argument for pre-calculus being a dual-enrollment course here, because it's generally taught for college credit (as opposed to remedial) at the local cc and we cover the same content (at least in theory) in a high school course (when I taught the course at the high school level, I deliberately chose to follow the standards for the equivalent course from the local CC so my students would be in good shape to pass their placement test and take calculus there the next year). There is no AP pre-calc test, so if we want to make pre-calc potentially credit-bearing I don't see another good option. It seems like if it's college-level content it makes sense to let them earn credit for learning it, and if it's not college-level content then it shouldn't be a 100-level course at college, either.

What I saw at the low-SES high school where I taught is that we'd lose a ton of promising kids after second year algebra (the last required math course in my state) because they chose to take an AP course in another discipline (often AP biology) rather than pre-calculus because they were trying to maximize their potential college credits, and pre-calc wasn't an AP course. This used to drive me crazy, since so many majors require you to pass a pre-calc and calc course (particularly things like the business major, which tends to use calc as a weeder course) and our students were setting themselves up for extra stress later by quitting math in favor of whichever AP classes fit their schedule. (This was also an advising issue, but our school counselor was really not a STEM person and I never found her to be a good listener about this sort of issue. I had enough trouble getting her to make kids take the algebra 1-geometry-algebra 2 series in sequence and not let them skip around without talking to me first.)

In my area, the way dual-credit works is that students have to take the same tests as in the college course and then credit is awarded through the college, which seems reasonable in math. There can be issues with students not having the study habits to survive in a normal college course passing in their high school "dual-credit" courses (since they meet for more often and longer), but I honestly don't see why this is more of an issue for a dual-credit pre-calc class than it would be with AP calculus.
First off, I think that version 1 of dual enrollment is just fine. I think the other two are the work of the devil. Here's why:

One issue that hasn't been brought up yet is that these college classes have college grades that end up on a student's transcript. When a 15 or 16-year old is suddenly faced with college-level work (let's assume for the sake of argument that it is college-level work), they are often not emotionally ready to handle it. Thus, they don't do very well and start college saddled with a low GPA.

In my state, the former governor wanted every school to offer DE (I'm pretty sure that every school does today) so that students might earn an associate's degree in HS. It's really the students in rural schools who flock to this, as they run out of good options in their HS. However, this means that we have students with good HS records and ACT/SAT scores, but who start college on academic probation. How messed up is that?

The other consistent message from DE as taught in the HS is that it does NOT prepare you for college-level work. It is NOT college-level work. Students consistently report that their real college classes are much harder. Duh.

But they do come to college with an expectation of taking 3000-level courses. If we put them in these courses, we are just setting them up to fail.

Ultimately, I think that DE in the HS is a failure of the high schools and the colleges that offer the credit.
No, CCPhysicist does not think that HS teachers have taught college courses for credit "for a long time", because my opinion is that only college faculty should teach classes for college credit. At my CC, classes taught in the HS are taught by some of the same people who teach on our campus and meet on the same time schedule for a 15 week semester.

More specifically, I believe that the only HS teachers who should teach any class that earns college credit (AP included) are those who are adjunct faculty at a college and meet all of the requirements of your local accrediting agency. Ours requires 18 semester hours in the content area -- e.g. graduate courses in mathematics rather than courses in math education.

A national AP exam does provide a normative role, so I have no problem with granting credit for that, but I still worry about the skill level at the minimum pass score. Hence my question for DD. I also worry about what bad habits they might pick up from someone who is not a mathematician.

Developmental ed is a completely different animal, because those courses do not earn college credit.
A national AP exam does provide a normative role, so I have no problem with granting credit for that, but I still worry about the skill level at the minimum pass score. Hence my question for DD. I also worry about what bad habits they might pick up from someone who is not a mathematician.
And I worry about the teaching skills of many mathematicians.

My AP US History teacher was amazing. The class was more intense than any of the non-science courses I had in college. Same was true of AP Spanish and AP Calculus AB. None of those teachers were adjuncts at the local cc. My honors physics and chemistry went more in depth than my college equivalents. The bad habits I picked up were by taking the courses again in college. A) I had learned the material already B) Gone through a more intense course on it. The combo of A & B led to some bad study habits (i.e. not studying) while still getting As.
If DeanDad is referring to what are refereed to in my area as Early or Middle College programs in my area as Dual Enrollment that perhaps isn't the best terminology to use. As I understand these programs the students are kept separate from the general community college students but they have classes which are taught by community college professors as a form of alternative high school. As I understand the program it is focused at students who for one reason or another don't function well in the normative high school environment and therefore seek out a different environment. These programs have exclusive support staff, unique programs, and other benefits that a normative high school simply do not have. So if this is what DeanDad is referring too it really isn't particularly similar to Dual Enrollment its an utterly different animal.

If that is not what hes referring to then I'm sorry for commenting.

My experience is not consistent with what you present. OTOH, the college at which I dual enrolled, and the one at which I matriculated as a "freshman" were different. Back then (about ten years ago) I wasn't aware of any colleges which transfer GPAs. So I got C's in all of my DE courses, got transfer credit, and started off at my "real" college with a clean slate and 41 transfer credits. It was the best of all worlds.

As to why I got C's? My own personal politics that aren't relevant to the discussion. (Just to be clear... I chose to earn the grades I got.)
Here in MN we have “post-secondary enrollment options” for high school juniors and seniors to earn college credits at a CC or university. The terms – student eligibility and what classes can be had – are hammered out between the school district and the higher ed institution. I attend a community college (I’m a non-trad student) that has a high number of HS students. They attend for free, including books (they’re loaned) and for the most part, PSEO students as we call them are hard-working kids in the upper levels of their HS class who think it’s cool to go to college. HS juniors must be in the upper 1/3 of their classes and seniors in the upper ½. All have to pass the CC’s placement exam.

I think the term “rebranding high school” is dead on. While many PSEO kids are bright achievers, most see CC attendance as 13th grade and treat it as such. C grades transfer as easily as As or Bs and immature behavior has few consequences. Parents are as likely to call the professor and the dean to complain about grades as they are with a high school teacher, and good professors or instructors are penalized for bad reviews and parental complaints. It’s frustrating – in a class of 30, half can be high school students of varying aptitudes. If my CC had an advanced or honors program, I’d be more than happy to pay extra for challenging classes and higher expectations.
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