Tuesday, January 31, 2012


College in High Schools

This one is really looking for advice from those among my wise and worldly readers who’ve found reasonably elegant ways to handle a particular situation.

Like many community colleges, mine offers some credit-bearing courses onsite in some local high schools that are just far enough way that it would be difficult for the students to commute.  In some cases, we’re just renting space in the high school and teaching at night.  Those cases are relatively straightforward; we pay a room fee and otherwise do what we would normally do.

But sometimes the school district wants a 100-level class offered to its students, on its premises, during its normal school day.  The logic, which makes sense to me, is that rather than simulating college with an AP or IB class, why not just teach the real thing?  Transcripted credits often do better in transfer than do, say, AP scores, which many colleges accept for placement but not credit.  Even better, when they bring in a real college professor, they bring in college level expectations for the students.  And the choices tend to be greater, since we offer classes in subjects for which AP tests don’t exist (as far as I know).

We’ve run into some logistical issues, though, and this is where I’m hoping some folks have found elegant solutions.

We knew, going in, that the semesters didn’t align cleanly.  (For example, our classes end in mid-May, but theirs run well into June.)  That’s an issue, but hardly a deal-breaker.  High schools also generally prefer to run classes five days a week in bite-size chunks of time; again, not our preferred method -- especially from a staffing perspective -- but not a surprise, either.

Textbooks take some diplomacy.  Students (and parents) in high school are accustomed to getting their books for free.  Colleges are accustomed to referring students to bookstores to buy their own.  When you’re running a college course in a high school, you need to address the book purchasing issue upfront.  Will the district pay, or will the students?  Do they have to go somewhere, will they be provided in class, or can they order online?

What we didn’t anticipate as much as we should have was the issue of placement tests.  Many of our 100-level courses require eligibility for English 101 -- that is to say, the ability to place out of developmental English.  A disturbing number of the high school seniors who are motivated enough to sign up for college courses don’t clear that hurdle.  I say “surprising” in part because of the merits, but in part because of the timing; if the prospective students don’t get their results until shortly before the course begins, and find themselves academically ineligible, then we can find ourselves in the awkward spot of having too few students to run the class.

I’ve floated the idea of just setting aside some seats in some online sections of classes we’re running anyway.  That way, I thought, we’d get around both the ‘travel’ issue and the minimum size issue.  If, say, six students out of twenty-five in a given Intro to Psych class are high school seniors, the class can run just fine.  I’d even argue that they’re getting a more authentic college experience, to the extent that their classmates are primarily 18 and older.

But that doesn’t always meet the needs of the high schools.  For reasons of their own, they need to have students in prescribed places at prescribed times, with someone who is paid to teach/supervise them.  Turning students loose for a while, with the expectation that they’ll eventually find their way to the course’s site, doesn’t meet the institution’s needs.

Finally, there’s the awkward fact that when high schools close, they close.  Colleges typically have admissions staff, registration staff, and the like available for probably fifty weeks a year.  That means that there’s nothing unusual about, say, administering placement tests in July and signing students up for classes in August.  That’s just not the case in many high schools, so even if we can align (or get around the non-alignment of) teaching schedules, all the support services frequently crash into each other.

I’m wondering if any of my wise and worldly readers have seen this kind of arrangement -- a college teaching college classes in a high school -- done smoothly.  What’s the trick?  Is there something we’re missing?

We do this with a couple of specialized classes. One trick: restrict registration in your college-in-high-school class to students with permission from a particular teacher (with whom you work to set standards). This might be someone who teaches AP courses, or the department chair, or maybe a principal.

Restricted classes probably weed out most of your students who are academically ineligible. However, some schools don't like placing barriers to entry. If that's the case, you need to decide whether or not your college can/will relax the eligibility restrictions for students in this one, special, program. (I suggest you don't, but I can see some arguments in favor.)

You might also try doing eligibility testing in April/May/June for the following academic year, or running your course only in Winter term and allowing a second round of eligibility testing in October for those who want to take the class but missed the cut-off in the previous spring. Who knows, that might motivate a few students to work harder on their language skills over the summer and in the fall.
The textbook issue can be a big one. In my neck of the woods, high schools can't charge for materials or courses. If they offer a course, it must be free. Some schools charge to supplement their budgets, which works until a lawyers kid takes a class (which means that school is poorer neighbourhoods generally get away with charging parents, while schools in richer neighbourhoods can't).

Supervision is another issue: attendance records are a legal document, so if a kid is enrolled in a class they must be physically there. We do have some online classes, but they are a special case and do not count towards day school enrolment.

You may have an issue with interruptions. What if the students have a field trip with another class? A game? Are in the school play? Again, our schools have a legal obligation to provide alternative instruction and assessment for classes missed while a student was on a school-sponsored activity.

Does the school change its timetable to accommodate special functions, staff meetings, athletics, etc? Can your professor deal with discovering on one day's notice that his period starts an hour early, or is delayed an hour, or shortened 30 minutes to allow for a visit by the guidance counsellor, or…

Sorry, no solutions. Just a warning that whoever you send to teach the courses needs to be flexible and understand that the school often has unwritten or uncontrollable interruptions.
I did this before starting to teach at my HS (nn Starfleet Academy on my blog). The course was a regular CC college comp sequence offered off-site at high schools. 90% of the students were from the high school, but it was also open to regular CC students. Some alterations were made to dates and length of classes to accommodate the HS schedule (fall classes started later, spring earlier, slightly fewer meetings, correspondingly lengthened meetings--CC produced a special schedule of off-site classes). HS students took AP English Language and Composition the previous year and I believe needed to earn a 3 or better to test into the course. Around here, school offices open about a month before school starts, which was enough time to get everyone enrolled. Class met late enough (4:00-5:30, I think) that it didn't conflict with anything in the regular school day. Books and materials--not sure about any special provisions for payment. To the best of my knowledge, it was the student's responsibility to get to the college bookstore (a mile away) and buy the texts. I believe district paid the fees, though, so maybe they bought the books as well.

My POV: I loved teaching this class, and it made me much more receptive to the idea of teaching at SA when a job opened up there. Kids were highly motivated, mostly college-bound, racking up transferable credits.
I, too, am currently teaching our CC's composition sequence at a local HS. I'm not sure how the students are placed in the class.

Our semesters don't line up at all. In the fall, my class at the HS starts a week later than my corresponding class at the CC; in the spring, my HS class takes spring break twice. However, we meet for longer periods, twice a week just like we would at the CC (another CC department runs a class on alternating days during the same time slot, so the students have only one day when they are released from school after lunch).

As far as I know, they buy their own textbooks. In any case, they go to the bookstore and are aware how much the books cost.

I love teaching these courses (we're able to cover both comp 1 and comp 2, and it's such a welcome change to be able to teach the full sequence in a row). The students are motivated and attend regularly.

Because we meet during the normal school day, we've had very few problems with students needing to miss class, and the students are all very willing to make up work if they do have to leave early for a sport or school trip.
In our on-line courses we use paired sections. ENGL 101-C1 is for our students. ENGL 101-H1 for HS students.Same course, same instructor, etc and the rosters are merged. It works for us.
Done smoothly? Absolutely. We run a lot of sections of ENG101 and HIS101 plus some sections of a gen-ed science like "earth science" in various area schools.

There are no exceptions for testing. Any embarrassment should be on the part of the school, not you, if their "advanced" students are still remedial writers. We are expanding testing to push more remediation (especially math) into the high schools by letting kids know they are not ready for college well before a summer or fall orientation.

We run the classes on the college schedule. This generally means the class meets on a MWF 50 min schedule and TT is used for office hours. The biggest problem is spring break. Different teachers handle that in different ways, from my tiny sample. Some double up using Tue and Thurs, others give assignments, some teach on the HS schedule.

HS students taking classes on our campus are stuck with the mismatch between breaks. They are college students.

One thing you did not mention: the key is having qualified college instructors in the HS classroom so the classes really are the same. Most of our classes are taught by someone who also teaches the same class on campus, not by a HS teacher, let alone one given an exception to standard accreditation requirements. Observations require more travel for the Dean if it is a HS teacher.
I took a few CC courses while in high school, both at my high school and on campus. I took math courses on the CC's campus because I had finished my high school's math sequence. These were regular college courses, and I took them as though I was a college student. The spring breaks didn't match up, and I dealt with it. I think I only had one class at the CC at that point, so I just skipped it during my high school's spring break so I could travel, and I made sure to keep up with the material I missed. It was my own decision, though, and I knew the potential consequences.

I also took English 101/102 on my own high school's campus, and this worked beautifully because one of the English teachers at my high school was also an adjunct faculty member who taught night classes at the CC. Thus she was already working on the high school's schedule, and so it was easy for her to use the CC's curriculum and standards to turn it into a college level course.

Now, you won't always have situations where a high school teacher is also an adjunct (or even has the proper qualifications to do so), but it worked beautifully in our situation.
The real issue is a cultural one. American high schools are prisons, and American colleges aren't.

You're not going to be able to get around that one.
Pundit: this is why I'm deeply thankful that there are a couple of charter high schools run on university campuses in my state, where (after a semester or two of acclimation), high school students are allowed to take all college classes, get college credit, and be treated like college students. The one my son participates in has about 600 students and most graduate "high school" with a year and half to two years of college credit, plus a vastly different attitude about learning and personal responsibility. My son is a classic example: hated, hated, hated the prison walls of suburban public high school and was near to failing out; but getting all As and Bs in regular college courses on a major university campus (as a high school junior) and loving the freedom and challenge of it.

I appreciate that this isn't an option for all and that "college in the high school" is better than nothing, but the cultural expectations and social atmosphere matter a lot too, and I don't think these could be recreated in a high school classroom.
I work at a community college in Missouri and recently launched an Online Dual Credit program. We are literally doing what you mentioned, setting aside a few online seats and the HS students sign up for a specific block in their high school to work on the course. The students can be in the same lab all working on different college courses, and still be supervised.

The high schools must follow the college academic calendar.
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