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How Should College And High School Intersect?

June 7, 2007

In a continuation of my blogging partner Christopher’s ongoing, periodic series about turning college into high school (or vice versa), today I bring you more examples and issues from North Carolina and Illinois (Chicago in particular).

On May 9, the Chicago Tribune ran a story, authored by Dahleen Glanton, with the following title and subtitle: “Getting a head start on college: Dual degree programs helping at-risk high schoolers keep their focus and their dreams.” Here are some excerpts:

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– “In a growing number of cities, including Chicago, public school districts are offering students an opportunity to work toward dual degrees as a means of curbing the staggering high school dropout rate and better preparing young people to compete in a global workforce. Such early-college programs are among the latest trends in school reform, targeting bright, mostly low-income students who were performing poorly in traditional schools and turning them into college scholars.”
– ” ‘This is changing my life in a lot of ways,’ said [Jequetta] Williams, a freshman at the [Jameston, NC] Early/Middle College High School at Guilford Technical Community College. ‘I am getting a free college degree, and I will be way ahead of a lot of other kids.’ “
– “In North Carolina, the early-college program has been the centerpiece of a school reform movement started by Gov. Mike Easley three years ago. The governor has led efforts to provide every student an opportunity to go to college debt-free. In return, the state, which is rebuilding its workforce after the loss of manufacturing jobs in the last decade, will get a fresh pool of trained workers to fill the technical jobs coming to the state.”
– ” ‘High schools will be a relic of the past pretty soon. When you’ve got 40 percent of the students dropping out, they are not working. You have got to do something different,’ Easley said. ‘We’re using high schools as satellite colleges, and we are giving people more incentive to stay there and work hard.’ ”
– “A similar program, a joint effort between Chicago Public Schools and DeVry University, began three years ago. Last year, Chicago opened its first early-college school, DeVry University Advantage Academy High School, where students graduate with computer degrees from DeVry.”
– “In many cases, such early-college programs have taken students who were on the way to becoming high school dropouts and turned them into high achievers at major universities. Of the 106 students who graduated from Chicago’s school last year with an associate’s degree, 96 decided to further their education by going to a four-year college to pursue bachelor’s degrees. The remaining 10 went to work in the fields for which they were trained.”

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Does earning all of this credit really help the student? Are community colleges equal to four-year schools, for instance, in terms of science instruction? What of liberal arts instruction? Will the students be able to transfer with no drop-off in grades or motivation?

What of the interests of the state? In North Carolina at least, the motivation – per Gov. Easley’s statement – is to have a workforce trained for incoming “technical jobs.” Is the state also not motivated to create lifelong learners and citizens with critical thinking skills? Do they only care about conveying information and, perhaps, conveying skills timely for today? But will these technical jobs be the ones that exist in twenty years? Is the state, and other states following North Carolina’s lead, thinking about the long-term future of its citizens or just the near term?

Is making college into high school (per my co-blogger Christopher’s designation) really the wise thing to do? What does that mean for the kind of instruction offered by the community college faculty? Some aspects of my cc courses, such as R-rated movies, were predicated on the fact that I was dealing with adults. Are parents going to sign waivers for their high school students? Which faculty get displaced – those from high schools or our cc’s?

At least the Chicago Public School’s partnership with DeVry makes their vision of the intersections between high school and college explicit: to wit, vocational. But cc’s are equiped for more than just vocational training. Many cc’s send their students on to four-year schools to pursure liberal arts degrees. In sum, DeVry is a good choice for vocational partnerships, but cc’s in general may not be.

It looks like this early-to-college program, if embraced in the North Carolina paradigm, will make it incumbent on community colleges to embrace more of vocational mission. How will the respective cc’s liberal arts transfer students feel about that?

Here are some more excerpts from the Tribune piece:

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– “As America moves toward an increasingly technological society, public school systems have been challenged to find ways to keep kids motivated enough to remain in school and to prepare them to compete in a global workforce that requires more than a high school diploma.”

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This statement assumes that all school children are motivated only by technology. Is that because technology is so fascinating, or because teachers and schools do a poor job re-presenting the necessary standard subjects that excite older folks, such as politics, philosophy, history, literature, language learning, etc.?

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– “While many urban school districts, including Chicago’s, have grappled with a dropout epidemic, officials have sought to engage students in job-specific programs that enable them to focus on subjects they enjoy, from mechanics to nursing to culinary arts, while preparing them for careers.”

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Are these children dropping out because school is boring, or because their support systems (family, friends, employment) breakdown? The article doesn’t say, but blames things on schools. What is making those vocational subjects so exciting? I’ve known a lot of mechanics in my life who didn’t enjoy their work.

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– ” ‘I am a firm believer that this is the answer,’ said Jill Wine-Banks, officer for the Education to Careers program with the Chicago Public Schools. ‘A high school diploma does not get you anywhere in the global economy. To be competitive, you have to provide students with the minimum of a postsecondary education. This is a way for students to get it all while they’re in high school.'”

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I agree with Ms. Wine-Banks that a high school diploma doesn’t have cash value that it used to. But I’m not sure that any kind of college degree will get you any further. To Ms. Wine-Banks I would ask: What kind of college program is the answer – vocational or liberal arts/humanities general education?

If she’s the one who cemented CPS’s relationship with DeVry, then I’m forced to say that she believes vocational education is the answer. I seriously doubt that DeVry’s offerings balance vocationalism with humanism, so compromise curricula are not a part of the equation in this case. That means Ms. Wine-Banks wants the schools, which are supposed to educate for a democracy, to engage in mere skills training. [Aside: That kind of education changes every few years with technology updates. Changing the equipment of schools is expensive, so who pays that cost? Don’t businesses train their workers with the necessary skills?]

And Ms. Wine-Banks, do technical skills make for a better democracy OR a more efficient capitalist system? I submit to you that good citizens can make good workers, but not vice versa. Without a solid liberal arts/humanities “training,” your skilled workers won’t know how to engage the system in the long term so as to not be slaves to the system. They won’t be good workers because they won’t be able to critically evaluate their overall position.

With what philosophy of education are we making college and high schools intersect? What’s best for the students?

I argue that, at the least, vocational training alone is not the answer. But I would go further and say that anything beyond fundamental computer skills training is a waste of any high school’s time. Let’s let the schools, even through the first two years of college, focus on making solid citizens and good people: let the businesses worry about on-the-job training. – TL

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One Comment
  1. Paul permalink

    “We acknowledge that not everyone needs to go to college. But everyone needs a postsecondary education.” – Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education

    Here are a couple of resources you might find interesting:

    http://www.stanford.edu/group/bridgeproject
    Sound research and policy recommendations to improve K-16 alignment

    http://www.act.org/path/policy/reports/rigor.html
    ACT report on HS curriculum shortcomings in terms of college readiness

    Keep in mind that there is a lot of stratification in HE. Chicago is not Illinois is not Chicago St is not Northern Illinois is not Phoenix is not a community college… 70% of HS grads go on to postsecondary education, but only 15% of those go to selective four-year institutions (rough percentages). 80% of college-bound students are at 2 years and non-selective 4 years.

    The bachelor's degree will be sifting out the labor force for a while to come…

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