Early College High Schools Challenge Traditional Thinking

Topics: Early College High School

Success in a rigorous early college setting is not easy, but it is possible, as graduates from more than 300 innovative schools across the nation will attest. Success in a rigorous early college setting is not easy, but it is possible, as graduates from more than 300 innovative schools across the nation will attest.

The idea that students who may have struggled in school, or even average high school students, can be successful in college courses challenges traditional thinking. But with careful planning, robust supports and hard work, students can and do achieve at amazing levels.

Fundamentally, early college success is about beliefs and expectations. The bedrock requirement for success in a KnowledgeWorks early college high school is the belief that average, under-performing or ELL students CAN be successful in college courses, given the right motivation, focus, guidance and support. Equally important is the expectation that students will be successful. Early college students, teachers, administrators, college partners and communities expect and accept no less than success. And they are willing to put in the focus and hard work it takes to be successful.

The curriculum in a KnowledgeWorks early college high school is a planned and purposeful alignment of high school and college courses. Ninth and tenth grades, in particular, maintain a “lean and mean” focus on building the literacy and mathematics skills of each student. Formative assessments are used to identify knowledge and skill gaps. Learning is accelerated by ensuring each student receives the just-in-time support he or she needs through a targeted set of tutoring, skill labs and study tables. Other wrap-around supports are provided, as needed, to help students confront and overcome any non-academic barriers to learning.

Courses that carry high school credit only are taught by high school teachers. In the KnowledgeWorks early college model, courses that carry college credit or dual high school and college credit are taught by college professors. The best results are achieved when students take college courses on the college campus with traditional college students. Students, at their very core, want to fit in. When they take college courses on a college campus, early college students tend to adopt the serious academic attitudes of those around them. Further, by taking college courses on a college campus, students have access to all of the writing and math labs, tutoring, mentoring and advising services available to college students in addition to the knowledge and support provided by the high school staff.

Students are introduced to the rigors of college through courses that don’t require a prerequisite: courses like public speaking, technology or foreign languages. Their progress is closely monitored by both the high school staff and a college liaison. Students are required to attend tutoring and study sessions. Students don’t take college English, mathematics or science courses until they demonstrate the academic skill and personal maturity to be successful in college-level work.

There aren’t a lot of frills in the early college course of study. At the outset there is a laser-like focus on building the skills to be successful and then completing the general education coursework required during the first two years of college. Students have a narrow range of choices – courses selected jointly by the high school and the college to maximize student preparedness for the rigors of a degree program.

The adults involved with KnowledgeWorks early colleges recognize, even before students, that college transcripts will be with students for the rest of their academic lives. The high school and higher education team involved with a KnowledgeWorks early college lay the groundwork for success through personalized attention and supports. Students, however, ultimately do the hard work. One by one, day by day, course by course, students achieve at levels conventional wisdom tells us is impossible.

Because the fully-implemented KnowledgeWorks early college model? It’s the art and science of the possible.

Guest post by Deborah Howard, former Senior Director of Operations for KnowledgeWorks.