Episode 60: Who’s Teaching College Courses to High Schoolers?

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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.

NYCollegeChat Podcast Episode 60: Who's Teaching #College Courses to High Schoolers? #collegeaccess #highschool #parents

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.

1. New Requirements for High School Teachers

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.

2. An Interesting Solution

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.

3. What Does This Mean for You?

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?

  • Because you will likely save some money in college tuition when your teenager finally goes to college
  • Because your teenager will likely have a valuable college experience while still in high school (especially if that experience is on a college campus with a college professor)
  • Because your teenager will more likely graduate from college—and in a shorter time—if he or she has earned some college credits while still in high school

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.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • What to ask your school board
  • How to increase the chances that other colleges take these credits
  • Why this topic is so important

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Episode 19: Senior-Year Courses

This week, we continue our Getting Ready to Apply series by discussing senior-year courses.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…

Taking care of your GPA–but not just for college admissions reasons
Taking AP exams–but not taking the course first
Taking actual college courses during the senior year–but not through dual enrollment

Episode show notes are available at http://usacollegechat.org/19

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Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

This week, we continue our series on Getting Ready to Apply by focusing on senior-year courses.

NYCollegeChat Episode 19 Senior Year Courses
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Some students think that it is all over by the time they get to the senior year. Everyone knows that it is the junior year grades that count the most. But wait! Senior year is important, and this is why: Virtually every college application asks students to list the courses being taken in the senior year, both semesters. And, virtually every college application asks students to indicate whether each senior year course is an honors course, an Advanced Placement (AP) course, a dual enrollment course (meaning that is being taken at a college or at the high school, but with a college’s staffing and/or supervision), or an International Baccalaureate (IB) course (for students in IB schools). So, taking just regular courses in the senior year could look like a bit of a cop-out to a prospective college. Therefore, if your child has the option of taking some more advanced or accelerated courses, it is worth thinking hard about that.

If your child’s high school does not offer any of these special kinds of courses, then just make sure that he or she takes the most rigorous courses available.

By the way, some colleges have minimum high school course requirements that they expect students to meet. They are much like your state’s course requirements for high school graduation. So, just to be safe, taking English, math, science, and social studies every year in high school is a good idea, along with a year of fine arts—art, music, or dance. That fourth year of math is particularly important—whether that’s calculus, precalculus, or statistics (preferably AP Statistics, if it is offered).

Let’s look at a few options for senior-year courses because it would be nice to be able to say on college applications that at least one senior-level course was advanced or accelerated in some way. Of course, taking advanced or accelerated courses as a freshman, sophomore, or junior also looks great on your child’s high school transcript, so your child need not wait until senior year to take advantage of these options if they are available earlier at your child’s high school.

1. Honors Courses

Your child’s high school might or might not offer courses designated as “honors” courses. If it does, entry into those courses might not be up to the student, because students might have to be chosen for honors courses by teachers, based on past grades or test scores. But, if your child does have the choice to take an honors English course or a regular English course, for example, encourage your child to take the honors course, assuming that he or she can get a good grade in it by working hard.

As you probably know, some high schools “weight” grades in honors courses of various types—meaning that students get more credit toward their GPAs for a grade received in an honors course than for a grade received in a regular course. In other words, getting a B+ in an honors course might be as good for your child’s GPA as receiving an A– in a regular course. On the other hand, some high schools do not “weight” grades in honors courses of various types—meaning that getting a B+ in an honors course will be worse for your child’s GPA than getting an A– in a regular course. So, that is something you will have to consider: Is it better to go for the higher GPA or to have honors courses on your child’s transcript and college applications? That is a hard choice, and colleges might not agree on which choice is better. The ideal, of course, is go for the honors course and encourage your child to get as good a grade in it as he or she would have gotten in the regular course. That’s the win–win.

2. Advanced Placement Courses

The weighted grades discussion applies to Advanced Placement (AP) courses as well. As you probably know, AP courses are designed to be college-level courses, taught at the high school by specially trained high school teachers. AP courses are a product of The College Board, which puts together both the syllabus, or outline, for the course and the test that is used at the end of the course to judge how well students learned the material. In addition, The College Board trains and certifies the high school teachers who teach the course. More than 35 AP courses have been developed, with multiple courses available in a variety of subject fields—in English, history and social science, mathematics, computer science, the natural sciences, world languages and cultures, and the arts.

The end-of-course AP tests are graded on a 5-point scale. Some colleges give college credit for high scores—for example, scores of 4 or 5. Some colleges let students who get high scores skip introductory courses in that subject field, but do not give students any credit. Basically, individual colleges can do what they want to do with AP test scores—including nothing at all.

Some high schools teach AP courses as senior-level courses; others teach them to younger students as well; others do not teach them at all. Whatever you think of AP courses—how good they are, how hard they are, whether they are really like college courses—it probably makes sense for your child to take one or more if your child has the course prerequisites and the ability to do it, purely from a how-it-looks-to-prospective-colleges perspective.

3. Dual Enrollment Courses

Many high schools do not have dual enrollment courses. But, if your child’s high school does, they are a fabulous option. These are college courses, which give students both high school credit and college credit at the same time because the students are dually enrolled—that is, enrolled in both college and high school at the same time for the same course. These courses are usually available in Early College high schools, though there are only about 300 Early College high schools across the U.S. We are lucky in New York City to have just over 15 Early College high schools now, with another two dozen or so statewide. However, other high schools that are not Early College high schools also can offer dual enrollment courses, typically in cooperation with a nearby college.

If dual enrollment courses are available at your child’s high school and your child is eligible to take them (that is, your child has whatever course prerequisites are needed), then make sure that your child takes them. These courses carry credits awarded by the cooperating college, which makes it more likely—though not guaranteed—that whatever college your child eventually attends will accept them. For that reason, these credits are likely more valuable than AP exam scores. There is really no downside to taking college courses in high school if a student is prepared for them.

4. Summer College Courses

We said in a recent episode that taking college courses in the summer—ideally after eleventh grade, I think—is a great way to make productive use of the summertime. We mentioned that one college application I had seen recently asked the applicant to account for his activities during every summer of his high school years. What better to have to say than, “I was taking a course at a college.” Whether the college is local or far away, big or small, selective or not, public or private, two-year or four-year—earning college credits during the summer while still a high school student is a wonderful idea. We also said that the only better idea is to study abroad and earn those college credits at an interesting college outside of the U.S.

Now, this is an episode about senior-year courses. So, the question is whether your child can list a course taken in the summer after the junior year as a senior-year course. I think that is a reasonable position, and I think that a college would find it acceptable.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Taking care of your GPA—but not just for college admissions reasons
  • Taking AP exams—but not taking the course first
  • Taking actual college courses during the senior year—but not through dual enrollment

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…