Wednesday, October 24

Starting in 2009, college courses for "potential dropouts"

The DOE is maneuvering to offer 12,000 "potential dropouts" a year of college courses while still in high school, the New York Times reports today. The $100 million initiative, which the DOE hopes to launch in 2009 with or without state funding, is predicated on the idea that kids in dual-enrollment programs are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll and stay in college. A recent report, based on analysis of data from New York and Florida, advanced this conclusion; the report also found that low-income kids benefit more from dual-enrollment than their wealthier peers but that schools frequently set standards for admission to college courses that exclude many students.

The DOE plans to eliminate those constraints and in fact to push the neediest kids to take the new courses. Many are excited about the initiative because it could help families save on college costs and get disaffected kids excited about school. Others, such as Leon Botstein, who as president of Bard College has pioneered rigorous early college schools in the city, are concerned that most high schools can't provide college-caliber instruction or atmosphere. "The idea would be to improve the quality of teaching and the treatment of students as adults. This is easier said than done," he told the Times. "You can’t do it in the environment of the traditional high school. You need entirely different faculty." It's not clear whether following those recommendations is part of the DOE's plan.

No one can argue that academically proficient at-risk and low-income kids shouldn't have access to AP courses, Regents-level work in middle school, and college courses. I've certainly visited schools that don't offer advanced courses because they think their students can't handle the work. But the key to high expectations is consistency, and kids don't become "potential dropouts" because they've had excellent education since they entered school. How can the DOE can possibly expect kids who are reading and writing far below grade level to complete college-level work? Shouldn't it devote energy (and state and private dollars) to providing engaging high school-level instruction so kids don't have to enroll in remedial courses in college, a major problem in the CUNY schools? Or perhaps the DOE thinks its high school reforms will be sufficiently successful by 2009 that all kids will be ready for college-level work.

I'm also curious about the recent report extolling the values of dual enrollment. I haven't read it yet, but maybe someone who has can answer this question: Is there evidence to suggest enrolling in college courses actually causes students to graduate from high school at a higher rate? Or is there just a correlation between the two outcomes? It seems more than possible that they are simply both products of better academic preparation (possibly gained at home) and higher motivation. If that's true, enrolling kids with low skills who haven't been motivated to excel before might not achieve the same results. Sounds like the DOE will need a benefactor to fund incentives for enrollment in college courses.

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