Atlanta merges best, worst high schools

Atlanta has merged its highest-performing high school with one of its lowest-performing schools, reports Molly Bloom for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Dr. Thomas Gosha teaches his world geometry class at Early College High School At Carver on Wednesday, Jan. 20. Atlanta school superintendent Meria Carstarphen has combined one of the worst high schools in the city with the very best one. If Carver School of Technology doesn’t improve this year, it could be eligible for state takeover under Gov. Deal’s Opportunity School District plan, if voters authorize it in November. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Dr. Thomas Gosha teaches world geography at Early College High School. Photo: Hyosub Shin, AJC.com

In 2005, Carver High was split into an Early College school for motivated achievers and several open-enrollment schools, including Carver School of Technology, an F school at risk of takeover by the state.

“They’ve gotten rid of their top performing school by combining it with the lowest performing school,” says Sandra Bethea, who chose Early College High for her daughter two years ago. “They’ve set the school up for failure.”

There are more fights, she said. Her daughter’s teachers spend more time disciplining students and less time teaching. School staff have less time for extra help. And her daughter spent the first semester her English class reviewing last year’s material, so School of Technology students could catch up.

Suspension rates are down and attendance rates are up for School of Technology students this fall, writes Bloom. “Significantly fewer fights were reported.” But suspensions are up for Early College students and “three fights were reported, compared to none reported last fall.”

Early College students meet most high school requirements in their first two years, then take college classes at Georgia State University or Atlanta Metropolitan State College as juniors and seniors.

Linking school to careers

Career readiness is an afterthought for most U.S. high schools, concludes Jobs for the Future in a new report. However, High Tech High Schools, Cristo Rey schools, Big Picture Schools, P-TECH models, and early college schools provide “applied learning related to the labor market.”

Cristo Rey students share a single full-time job (in a law firm, bank, hospital, or other setting), with each student working one day a week to pay school tuition.

At Worcester Tech, students run a veterinary clinic in partnership with Tufts.

At Worcester Tech in Massachusetts, students work in a veterinary clinic in partnership with Tufts.

Big Picture students make personalized learning plans that take them out to work several days a week with mentors, and a goal of defining their passions and finding work that is satisfying.

Massachusetts vocational schools typically host companies on site and provide the clinical training required for industry certifications. Worcester Tech, for example, hosts Tufts at Tech, a veterinary clinic serving the community.

The Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART) in Clovis, California, provides half-day programs for 11th and 12 graders in four career clusters: professional sciences, engineering, advanced communications, and global economics.

. . . students complete industry-based projects and receive academic credit for advanced English, science, math, and technology. Students do everything from testing water in the High Sierra, to making industry-standard films, to trying out aviation careers by actually flying planes. Teaching teams include business and science partners, and many teachers have extensive professional experience.

Only 24 percent of U.S. teens have jobs, down from 44 percent in 2000. Teens from well-to-do families are the most likely to have jobs, while few lower-income teens are in the workforce.

In Switzerland, students apply for internships at the end of ninth grade.

For the next three or four years, your week consists of three days at work, two days at school, and an occasional stint in an intercompany training organization (like the Centre for Young Professionals, in Zurich, Switzerland). Your company pays you between $600 and $800 a month to start, moving up to $1,000 or $1,200 or more by the end of your third year.

Seventy percent of young people use this system, completing “the equivalent of high school (and a year or so of community college).”  Swiss youth unemployment is 3 percent.

Linked Learning integrates career tech education with academics.

Earning a technical certificate or associate degree at a community college significantly boosts earnings. However, most community college students — including those who place into remedial classes — are trying to earn academic credentials.

Employers are doing more to train workers for skilled blue-collar jobs, reports U.S. News.

Early college for all — in the Rio Grande valley


Krystal Balleza earned her associate’s degree two weeks before her high school graduation. Photo: Pharr-San Juan Alamo Independent School District

In a high-poverty district on the Texas-Mexico border, all high school students take “early college” classes, reports Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz in the Washington Monthly‘s College Guide.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District (PSJA) Superintendent Daniel King pioneered early college for all at nearby Hidalgo. His goal is to persuade low-income, minority students — not just the motivated achievers — to raise their aspirations.

Nationwide, 90 percent of early college students graduate from high school, 10 percentage points above the national average, and 30 percent of students get either an associate’s degree or a certificate, according to Jobs for the Future, the Boston-based nonprofit that runs the national Early College Designs program.

Research has shown that students selected for early college schools by a random lottery have higher high school graduation rates and college attainment levels than those who lose the lottery and attend a traditional high school.

Incoming ninth-graders in all of PSJA’s high schools will take a college entrance exam used to show who’s ready for college-level work. They’ll take prep courses until they pass the exam, then move on to community college courses — usually taught at the high schools — and summer courses at University of Texas- Pan American.

Once enrolled in college courses, PSJA students average Bs, according to data provided by the district. Out of PSJA’s roughly 1,900 graduates this May, 60 percent took at least one college course. About 215 students graduated with an associate’s degree and 270 got a certificate.

By 2019, district officials hope that at least 90 percent of graduates will earn at least some college credit, with 1,000 students earning an associate’s degree or certificate, a one-year credential given out in fields like welding, IT and medical technology.

The district helps students make college plans and fill out financial aid applications. District staff advise first-year students on local campuses.

With an average ACT score is only 17.3, college degrees for all — or even most — is unlikely. But I’d bet these kids go farther than the PSJA students of the past.

I wrote about Hidalgo Early College High School and talked to King for my chapter on high-achieving high schools for disadvantaged students, part of Fordham’s Education for Social Mobility (soon to be a book!). It’s a very gutsy idea.

‘Early college’ boosts persistence

Dual-enrollment programs — college classes for high school students — are helping disadvantaged students get to and through college, reports Emily Deruy in National Journal.

Early-college graduates are less likely to need remedial classes and more likely to make it to their second year of college, according to a Rennie Center report.

Earning college credits and getting a taste of college expectations is especially valuable for students at schools that offer few Advanced Placement courses, the report noted.

“Early-college programs improve students’ overall grit and persistence, but also help them become knowledgeable about the overall [college] system,” Chad d’Entremont, executive director of the center, told Next America.

Early-college classes, often taught by community college professors, include academic and career courses. At Murdock High in Massachusetts, seniors can take technical classes at Mount Wachusett Community College that lead to a credential in information technology.

Career prep starts in middle school


High school student Andrew Castillo, left, and architect Marco Marraccini, met when Andrew was a seventh-grade intern. Photo: Emile Wamsteker, Education Week

Career prep programs are starting in middle school, reports Education Week.

“Although young people physically drop out in high school, they mentally disengage in middle school. That’s where we lose them,” said Ayeloa Fortune, who directs United Way’s Middle Grade Success Challenge in Alexandria, Virginia.

In Pittsburgh, United Way funded a program that connects sixth graders with adults who introduce them to career options.

Middle schools are increasingly looking for ways to expose students to careers so they understand the relevance of what they are learning and stay on track. The hope is that with a goal in mind, they will be inspired to take rigorous classes, be engaged in learning, and increase the likelihood that they will be prepared for college.

In seventh grade, a nonprofit called Spark paired Andrew X. Castillo with an architect at a Los Angeles firm. A rising senior, the 16-year-old is applying to selective colleges to study architecture. He hopes to be the first in his family to complete college.

“[My mentor] helped me focus more on the future and what my next step should be,” says Castillo.

Career-focused charter schools could “alternative pathways for getting most kids not only through high school, but also through to some form of postsecondary credential with value in the labor market,” writes Robert Schwartz, a Harvard professor emeritus. He calls for designing schools that combine the strengths of career academies and early college high schools.

Two-thirds of young people will not earn a bachelor’s degree, writes Schwartz. The college graduation rate is much lower for students from low-income families.

Career ed gets kind words, few dollars

The Obama administration is promoting career education, reports Joy Resmovits on the Huffington Post. President Obama called for career education funding on a visit to Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in New York City, a partnership with IBM.

The president’s push for more college degrees has drawn criticism. There are few pathways to success for career-minded students. Now the rhetoric is shifting.

Mixing career and college courses is “just something I absolutely believe in,” Duncan told the Post. “When young people have a chance to take college-level courses, when they’re thinking of careers as well, that’s just hugely important.”

“For the most part, they’ve been about academic standards,” said Anthony Carnevale, leads Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “I’m glad to see them open up another front here.”

“Academic reform has been too much of a good thing and we’ve overdone it, and moving to a point where we have only one pathway to college, which is the high school to Harvard model,” Carnevale said. “That model is only applicable to the 25 percent of college-going students who attend four-year-colleges,” he said. “It’s the only one we understand. … they’ve added another pathway here, and seem to be more and more serious about it.”

Carnevale says he sees education reform floundering on subjects like Algebra II, with Texas’ recent move to drop the course as a high school graduation requirement serving as a sign of things to come.

Duncan has pushed for Common Core  standards, which aim at “college and career readiness.” But all the stress has been on college prep. Only 13 states have defined “what it means for a high school student to be career- or work-ready,” concluded a Center on Education Policy survey.

“College and career readiness” has come to mean that every student has to take three years of university-track math, pass standardized tests and jump through college-prep hoops, writes teacher Mark Gardner on Stories from School. Doing “career ready” right isn’t cheap, he points out. Schools need “a shop, a technology lab, tools, an industrial kitchen, consumable materials, a greenhouse” and a lot more.

The administration has released a blueprint for revising the Perkins Act, which funds vocational education, “but has had little success in increasing its funding,” writes Resmovits.

Here’s the Republican take on reauthorizing Perkins. Everybody wants employers involved — because they want them to foot part of the bill.

Both Democrats and Republicans oppose the administration’s proposal to make school districts compete for the $1.1 billion in Perkins funding, reports Ed Week. Competitions favor large districts that can afford grant writers.

Yesterday, the Department of Labor announced $100 million in YouthCareer Connect grants to high schools. By federal standards, that’s very small potatoes. Schools will compete for career-tech grants. Programs must integrate career and college prep, let high school students earn college credits, provide “work-based learning” and/or partner with employers.

YouthCareerConnect came as a surprise to House leaders, who held a hearing on reauthorizing the Perkins Act yesterday, reports Ed Week. Because the funding comes from H-1B fees, the grants don’t require congressional approval. But legislators like to be consulted.

Even though the competitive career-tech program involves a relatively small pot of money, the administration’s proposal essentially an end-run around Congress, which isn’t really the most helpful way to kick-off a bipartisan reauthorization.

The administration likes models that offer career training and college options. But there are quite a few students who are strongly motivated to learn job skills and turned off by academics. They need pathways too.

Three years to a computer science degree

Instead of working in the fields like her mother, Leticia Sanchez hopes to earn a low-cost computer science degree in three years to make it from the Salinas Valley to Silicon Valley.

At Brooklyn’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School, students study a curriculum designed with help from IBM, work with mentors supplied by IBM and get on the inside track for IBM jobs when they graduate — potentially with an associate degree. The employer-linked grade 9-14 model will be replicated at 16 sites across New York state.

Dual enrollment’s dark side

“Dual enrollment” students earn college credits in high school, but there’s no guarantee they’ve done college work, writes a university math professor. One of his students earned two years of college credit by the age of 18, but can’t solve math problems. Her “learning method” is guessing on multiple-choice tests. 

In Oregon, taking college courses boosts high school students’ confidence — and the odds they’ll enroll in college. But is their confidence justified?

Dump 12th grade to fund preschool

Years ago, when he was making a documentary called The Promise of Preschool, John Merrow talked to a Georgian who said he’d like to get rid of 12th grade and “spend the money on free, universal, high-quality preschool,” writes John Merrow of Learning Matters TV. He wonders: Why not?

States with exit exams generally peg them to a 10th grade level, which ought to tell you something about official expectations.  Across the nation, savvy (and bored) kids are enrolling in college courses while still in high school–if their system allows.  You may recall our profile of one Texas school district on the Mexican border where many students have a substantial number of college credits under their belt when they graduate high school. Some actually receive their Associates Degrees from the local community college the same day they pick up their high school diplomas!

I conclude from that story, and from the tales from students in other school districts, that a ‘business as usual’ senior year is a waste of time. Thousands of motivated kids refuse to accept that state of affairs and so enroll in college, and that’s commendable, but why not raise the bar in high school and shorten the time?  If some students need a twelfth year, fine. But why bore hundreds of thousands of our youth?

Merrow guesses eliminating 12th grade would free up $6,400 for every four-year-old.

But every four-year-old doesn’t need preschool. Those who do — the kid whose single mom can’t read well enough to get through Goodnight Moon — need intensive, expensive early education. And they won’t be ready for college after 11th grade.

Graduation rates are up, but is it real?

High school graduation rates are up, but why? Tonight, PBS NewsHour looks at charges schools are increasing numbers artificially by “labeling dropouts as transfers, encouraging home schooling for their most troubled students, or creating alternative systems such as computer-based ‘credit recovery’ courses.”

The show also examines small theme-based schools in New York City and early college programs in Texas that seem to be getting more students to a valid high school diploma.