Jan 29, 2016
In recent weeks, we have been talking about news stories about higher education—some that might immediately influence your teenager’s decisions and others that might take longer to impact your family. Today’s story is the perfect intersection of college and high school, and it is a story that could affect your current high schoolers right now as they try to put together a high school program for themselves that will make them attractive applicants to colleges.
In today’s episode, we are taking a look at a growing movement nationwide—one that Marie and I invested a lot of time and effort in when we co-founded an Early College high school in New York City in 2009. That movement is the offering of courses for college credit to high school students. Sometimes students earn only college credits for such courses, and sometimes students earn both high school and college credits for those courses (in that case, they are often referred to as dual-enrollment or dual-credit or concurrent-enrollment courses). Sometimes students attend Early College high schools that partner with colleges to offer college credit courses as part of a formal and structured program, which often supplies support services to students as well. Sometimes college credit courses are offered on the college campus and sometimes at the high school. Sometimes college credit courses are taught by college professors and sometimes by high school teachers—which is the subject of today’s episode.
Let us say right now that Marie and I are huge fans of Early College high schools and of offering college credit courses to high school students who can rise to the occasion and do good academic work. By the way, in our experience, that is far more students than you might think—and it includes many low-income urban students, who are written off by way too many colleges and indeed by an unfortunate number of high schools. We have seen kids, who were not fortunate enough to have had great middle school experiences and who had virtually been given up on by high school teachers, bloom in college classes. It is fair to say that we are about as biased in favor of accelerating high school students into college courses as you can be. So what’s the question?
The question is about who is teaching the college courses that high school students are taking for college credit (and sometimes for both college and high school credit simultaneously). At our Early College high school, students went to our college partner’s campus in their third year with us and started taking actual college courses, taught by college professors, but in classes with only their high school classmates. In their fourth year of high school with us, our students went to college full time—taking a full load of regular college classes taught by college professors in classes of regular college students. These courses were not dual-credit courses; our students had already earned all of the high school credits they needed to graduate, and so these courses were simply college courses for college credit.
It was clear to us that college professors should be teaching the college credit courses that our high school students took. In other types of programs, it is evidently less clear.
Many dual-credit courses are, in fact, taught by high school teachers in high school classrooms. I understand the efficiency of this practice and even the necessity of this practice in places where students cannot get to a college campus easily and where college professors cannot get to students at their high school easily, either. But I don’t prefer it, and I don’t think it gives students the same experience. It might be a college course, but it is not a college professor or a college location or a roomful of other college students.
Last fall in Education Week (October 13, 2015), Catherine Gewertz wrote an article about a new ruling by the Higher Learning Commission that angered a lot of educators, but frankly pleased me: “New Teacher Requirements Jeopardize Dual-Credit Classes.” (The Higher Learning Commission is the organization that accredits colleges in much of the West and Midwest.) The Commission stated that a high school teacher who is teaching a dual-credit course must have a master’s degree. Furthermore, if the teacher does not have a master’s degree in the subject field of the course he or she is teaching (for example, mathematics, English, or history), then the teacher must have at least 18 graduate credits in that subject field. So, for example, if a high school mathematics teacher has a master’s degree in education, that teacher must also have at least 18 master’s-level or more advanced credits in mathematics in order to teach a dual-credit mathematics course for college credit. These are the same requirements that regular college faculty must meet, and I personally am fine with that.
Initially, when the ruling was made last year, colleges were given until September, 2017, to get their dual-credit courses into compliance. The Commission is now saying that it will review applications for an extension of that deadline until September, 2022. So, clearly, colleges are concerned about getting high school teachers enough appropriate graduate-level credits to continue teaching in their dual-credit programs.
High schools are just as concerned—and maybe more so. The Education Week article notes that some principals in Indiana (where more than 65,000 high school students took dual-enrollment courses in 2014) have said that as many as 90 percent of their teachers could not meet the Commission’s standard. The Education Week article also pointed out that Indiana’s chief academic officer for higher education had commented that high school teachers who teach Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses—both of which can yield college credit with high-enough exam scores—are not required to have a master’s degree. I understand that point, though I continue to believe that AP and IB courses are not actually college courses—academically challenging though they might be.
Here is another complaint, according to the Education Week article:
One of the criticisms of the ruling is its use of a master’s degree as a proxy for good teaching. . . . ‘I strongly disagree with the [Higher Learning Commission] that quality teaching equals having an advanced degree in your field,’ Joe Nathan, the director of the Center for School Change in St. Paul, Minn., wrote in an email. Nathan helped write the 1985 law that made Minnesota the first in the country with a statewide policy allowing dual-credit courses. (quoted from the article)
Personally, I don’t think the Commission is saying that having a master’s degree means you are a good teacher, or indeed a good college professor. All of us have had college professors who were not good teachers, and all of us have had high school teachers who were not good teachers, too. In this case, the master’s degree means that you have broad and detailed knowledge of the subject field you are teaching. It is about the content that you need to know, not the teaching skill that you need to have. It is the standard that colleges use for their own faculty and, as such, I am willing to use it for teachers of dual-credit courses, which should be as close to the same as college courses as possible.
Ohio has an idea for solving the problem (and it’s possible other states have done something like this as well). In order to help high school teachers get the graduate-level college courses they need to teach in the State’s dual-credit program (called College Credit Plus), the State has given grants to some colleges to make it possible for teachers to take the courses they need tuition free, according to the Dayton Daily News (“College credit program could get surge of teachers,” by Jeremy P. Kelley, January 10, 2016). Colleges are putting some of their own funds into the programs as well.
Of course, it is still a lot of work for high school teachers who do not have many graduate-level credits in the subject area of the college course they are teaching. It could take them some time to complete the 18 credits required.
Yet, the Dayton Daily News article noted that “[s]ome education research suggests that students who earn multiple college credits while in high school are more likely to achieve some level of college degree.” And with more than 30,000 Ohio high school students taking college credit courses last fall, that turns out to be a lot more students on a solid path to a college degree.
So here is something that Marie and I have said before in earlier episodes of NYCollegeChat and in our book How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students (available at Amazon.com in print and electronically). If your teenager goes to a high school that offers college credit courses through an Early College program or another type of dual-credit or dual-enrollment program, please make sure your teenager takes advantage of it. Why?
I think in an early episode of NYCollegeChat I said something like this: I have spent much of my 40-year professional career studying and evaluating education innovations for the federal government, for various state governments, for various school districts, and for various foundations. I have seen a lot of programs that claimed to make a difference. Almost all of them had some downside or other. But Early College programs and other dual-credit programs just do not seem to have any downside at all. So, take advantage of them whenever possible. And if you are moving and looking at new school district homes, let the presence of such programs be one thing you absolutely look for.