Wednesday, February 15, 2017


“I Don’t Want to Lose the Scores”

The previous post was an objection to researchers extrapolating from K-12 to community colleges.  This week I was reminded why.

We have dual enrollment programs with most of the high schools in our county.  The way the term is used here, that refers to college classes taken by high school students, whether taught in the high school or at the college.  Recently we’ve gained traction with Early College High School programs, in which high school students take so much dual enrollment that they wind up graduating with an associate’s degree at the same time that they graduate high school.  (Given differing lengths of semesters, sometimes they finish college a few weeks before they finish high school.)  ECHS programs are great ways for students and parents to reduce the cost of transfer, and to either improve access to college for students whose families otherwise wouldn’t be able to send them, or to offer more rigorous academic challenges to students who aren’t challenged enough by high school.

ECHS programs make nice alternatives to AP or IB programs to the extent that they offer actual transcripted college credits.  They also offer the potential of more variety.  Now that some selective colleges are getting pickier about actually giving credit for AP or IB, the economic appeal of ECHS programs is growing.  

But in conversation with a local superintendent, I saw a complication.

She explained that her high school, like every public high school in the state, is “graded” by the state, and the “grades” or rankings are released to the public every year.  Her board judges her, in part, by how well the school does in the rankings.  

AP, IB, and even high SAT scores count for the rankings.  Dual enrollment and ECHS don’t.  She was concerned about the possible loss of some high AP testers to the ECHS program; as she put it, “I don’t want to lose the scores.”  

To her credit, she seemed determined not to let that stop her.  She wants to do right by her students, and providing them the opportunity to take college courses is a way to do that.  But the statement still gave me pause.

Structurally, her incentives skew towards AP, even as colleges are starting to move away from it.  She’s willing to take the high road and do the right thing for her students, and that’s great, but over time, it would be more sustainable if the incentives aligned.

In most states, K-12 and higher ed are governed separately.  Each has its own incentives and imperatives.  Sometimes they align, but frequently they don’t.  Part of the whole “common core” movement, whatever you think of it, was based on the goal of aligning the two sectors at the level of curriculum.  The jury is still out on the degree to which that worked, but the goal itself makes a lot of sense.  

At the federal level, financial aid doesn’t cover dual enrollment or ECHS classes.  So a student who’s hitting the ceiling of a poorly-funded high school can’t have access to Pell money to take classes instead at the local community college.  Instead, she has to slog through whatever the local school can offer.  If its AP or IB offerings are slim to none, well, too bad.  

Socially, that doesn’t make much sense, unless the goal is to keep some people down.  If the goal is an educated citizenry, we need to stop putting up artificial barriers.

I say, let the high school get some credit for its dual enrollment and ECHS students who succeed.  And while we’re at it, let’s have a real conversation about financial aid for these programs.  Better to give students access to challenging coursework while they’re in a position to take it.  And let’s not punish high schools for stepping up.  That’s exactly what they should be doing.

You need to craft this into a tightly written op-ed column and submit it to the main papers read by policy makers in your state. (That might be the New York Times. It belongs there.) This is true everywhere, for reasons that baffle me. Does the College Board lobby state boards of education? Ditto for universities that think AP is better than actual college credit, although I understand their financial motivation. A few have an academic motivation, where they don't even accept credit for their OWN "engineering" physics course when a student becomes a physics major, but those are rare.

These policies work against the best interests of bright students, particularly those stuck in a district with limited resources. You know, the kind that has a phys ed teacher handle their only physics class because, well, that is all they have. (I am not making that one up!)

The only thing I would add is that you don't go far enough. The AP curriculum I deduce from transcripts often works against the push for improving the production of STEM graduates. A student in a STEM major needs to focus on calculus, chemistry, and either biology or physics depending on whether the goal is a medical field or engineering. So why do I see a pre-engineering major come out of HS with a whole stack of courses in psychology, history, etc? Because those are the AP courses they have at that HS and every good student is going to take them to boost their "score". They don't have enough kids (or the teachers) to offer AP chemistry or physics, so those kids are steered into sociology instead. It is a crime,because they are a year ahead in course irrelevant to their major, putting them a year or more behind in the courses that actually matter to their interests and career goals.
The other side, though, is that badly done dual enrollment can really hurt students. Our preliminary analysis is that students in AP (with high scores) and IB classes do well in the subsequent university classes (as do transfer students), but students in dual enrollment classes often don't. But we aren't allowed by the state to refuse to accept the credit, or to ask the student to retake it, or to ask them to take a placement test. So at the good high schools it works well, but at the bad ones they come out with an Associates degree that didn't teach study skills or writing or critical thinking, and then flunk out of college when they're expected to be at a junior level.
What "A" said at 8:34. It depends so much on how the state implements dual enrollment and ECHS. I've seen schools stop offering math and science classes because they decided to depend on distance dual enrollment courses. These, of course, are rural high schools who are struggling to keep teachers, but I'm just not convinced that a dual enrollment course taught by a high school teacher or college professor beamed into a computer classroom is a good option for a student. I am thinking of their maturity level more than academic ability. If there is no oversight on the dual enrollment courses--no common exam, no classroom visits by the HE institution--than it's far too easy for DE to be a crutch.

That said, I completely agree that ECHS and dual enrollment should contribute to a school's "grade." I'm fairly certain they do in our state.
Has "A" considered sending a complaint to the regional accrediting body that handles the college responsible for those flawed classes? No high school teacher without the required 18 graduate hours in the field plus a masters degree should be anywhere near a DE classroom, and the college should be called on it if they ignore those rules except when they know someone is looking at their records.

I am writing from the perspective of someone who only sees the DE students who are actually on our campus, where they are in the same classroom taking the same exams as the CC and university transient students enrolled in the course.
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I used to teach at a school making a big "AP" push. I'd have seniors declining to take pre-calculus because it wasn't an AP course and they already had their required 3 years of math, so they'd rather take AP something-or-other that period (usually AP bio). It was the most exasperating thing.
How dual education classes work in our low-tax low-public spending midwestern state. A high school contacts a community college to certify a course the high school is teaching as "dual enrollment." The community college receives a fee for each high school student taking the dual enrollment course. You can imagine just how that works.
"In the provinces" needs to report that to the college's accrediting agency if there are any doubts whether the course is the equivalent of a course at the college and/or whether the instructor has a masters degree and 18 graduate hours in the subject area being taught. Otherwise it is just inuendo.

FYI, my CC gets full tuition (not a "fee") plus standard college fees for each student taking one of our courses, regardless of where it is taught. Dual enrollment is enrollment. Those students also have to satisfy our college-level placement score requirements.
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