Consortium Matters

MCNC STEMs Ahead. . . thoughts from Dr. Cecilia Cunningham, Executive Director    cece1

 STEM EARLY COLLEGE EXPANSION PARTNERSHIP
MCNC is proud to share with you that we have been awarded a prestigious i3 grant in partnership with NCREST, Teachers College and Jobs for the Future..Our i3 grant, STEM Early College Expansion Partnership, or SECEP is based on the expansion of Early Colleges with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  The future workplace will require greater facility with STEM concentrations, but despite the economic demand, student interest and achievement in STEM disciplines have remained stagnant. Only about 14% of undergraduates are enrolled in STEM studies, and STEM postsecondary students are more likely than non-STEM students to be foreign, young, and from families with income in the top 25% or with parents who had some college education in STEM (IES, 2009). There are few proven models that have demonstrated success in increasing student achievement in STEM fields, particularly among low income students and students of color. Early College is a proven model for increasing student access to and achievement in college, especially for students who are underrepresented in college.The matching funds for a significant portion of this work come from the Mott Foundation, a long time supporter of Mott Middle College in Michigan and the expansion of the Middle College in that state.  MCNC will be coordinating activities for SECEP in Michigan and Jobs for the Future will coordinate the activities in Bridgeport.  We will cooperatively share and develop new resources to ensure that this project is successfulDr. Chery Wagonlander will provide local expertise for the sites in Michigan.The goals for this 5year project will be:

  • Improve STEM instruction by scaling STEM ECHS designs to increase the opportunities for students’ access to STEM postsecondary studies and careers.
  • Expand STEM ECHS high quality professional development in STEM subjects to increase teachers STEM content and pedagogical content knowledge.
  • Build key partnerships with districts and postsecondary institutions to position STEM ECHS designs for sustainability

At the end of five years we will evaluate the effects on the college going rates at the partner sites especially in STEM.

You will be hearing a lot more about SECEP in the coming months as we prepare for the summer conference, where we will roll out specific resources, strategies and supports.

Early College High School Initiative Impact Study: A Social and Academic Success Story

“I felt that being able to start taking college courses at (Early College) while still in high school made it much easier to adapt from high school to full- time college student after graduation.”

Early College Alum

 The most recent long-term study released in June 2013 finds that Early College High Schools have had a sustained positive impact on traditionally underserved students nationwide. Reports published by AIR(American Institute for Research) and SRI International point to the unequivocal success of Early College High Schools. The study conducted by Andrea Berger (Project Director), Lori Turk-Bicakci (Deputy Project Director), Michael Garet (Principal Investigator), Mengli Song, Joal Knudson, Clarisse Haxton, Kristina Zeiser, Gur Hoshen, Jennifer Ford, Jennifer Stephan and Kaeli Keating and Lauren Cassidy of SRI, found strong evidence to answer the study’s two questions:

1. Do Early College students have better outcomes than they would have had at other high schools?

2. Does the impact of Early Colleges vary by student background characteristics (e.g., gender and family income)?

The study compared outcomes for students from 10 ECHS (Early College High School) where admission was conducted by lottery with similar schools in the districts where students did not have access to structured, tuition free college courses and academic support. Students in non-ECHS institutions had participated in the lotteries, but had not been accepted into the ECHS programs. The study included 2,458 students in five states. It assessed both quantitative data (2004-2012) and qualitative data, obtained from student and grantee interviews. The latter included only 1,294 Early College students. Subjects were approximately ½ female, ½ low-income, ½ minority and 1/3 first generation college attendees.

Early College High Schools were initiated by funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2002, for development of Early Colleges to give students traditionally underrepresented in postsecondary education the opportunity to enroll in college courses and receive credit while pursuing a high school diploma.

“My time at (the Early College) has prepared me for schoolwork at a higher level because I was basically performing the same level of work throughout high school. The environment pushed me to take every opportunity offered to me…I am a better student for having attended (EC).”
-Early College Alum

 

Early Colleges are structured around core principles which have demonstrated success in challenging assumptions about age and academic experience necessary for high quality performance. These are:

• A commitment to serving students underrepresented in higher education

• Created and sustained by a local education agency, a higher education institution and the community, all of whom are jointly accountable for student success.

• Schools and their higher education partners and community jointly develop an integrated academic program so that all students earn one to two years of transferable college credit leading to college completion.

• EC schools engage all students in a comprehensive support system that develops academic and social skills as well as the behaviors and conditions necessary for college completion.

• EC schools and their higher education and community partners work with intermediaries to create conditions and advocate for supportive policies that advance the early college partners.

“[The Early College] allowed me to receive my associate’s degree nearly for free. Without [the Early College] I would not have my competitive edge that I have now at [college]; and I wouldn’t have the same confidence, college smarts, or goals.”

-Early College Alum

 

The 10 year AIR/SRI Study confirmed the success of these programs. The study found that EC students were more likely to graduate from high school than comparison students. 86% of incoming cohort from EC schools graduated on time, vs 81% from the comparison schools. In addition EC students had higher English language arts assessment scores than the comparison group.

EC students were more likely (63%) to enroll in college during their high school career than comparison students (23%). One year after graduation the majority of both groups 77% (EC) vs 67% (Comp) were enrolled in college. EC Students and graduates were more likely to enroll in both two and four year colleges than their comparison peers (59% vs 38% in 2 year colleges and 54% vs 47% in four year colleges).

Finally EC students were more likely to earn a college degree than comparison students. By the end of high school, the study found 20% of EC students had earned an A.A. degree as opposed to 1% of the comparison group. At the end of the first year after high school 21% of EC students had earned a degree, while comparison students earning a degree remained 1%.

The study found that EC impacts on high school graduation and college enrollment were similar regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, family income, achievement before high school and whether they were first generation in family to attend college. Surveys and interviews demonstrated higher ratings among EC students than comparison groups regarding:

• Academic rigor

• College-going culture

• Level of instructor support

• Quality of support completing college and financial aid applications.

This summary was adapted from the complete 2013 report, Early College, Early Success: Early College High School Initiative Impact Study, available at http://www.air.org/earlycollegeimpact. Inquiries about the evaluation may be sent to Andrea Berger at aberger (at) air.org

For more information about the Early College High School Initiative, visit

www.earlycolleges.org

www.mcnc.us

 

 

 

 

 

Student Leadership 2014: Prince George County, MD-Washington, DC

Student Leadership Middle College National Consortium style is bearing down towards DC. An army of youth-warriors are set to tackle issues of Social Justice across the nation and they are aiming to be heard. After last year’s breakthrough conference in Columbus, Ohio where our students asked the question, “What makes a healthy community?” they wanted to address some of the ills they had uncovered with well designed plans and clear action. Social Justice was the theme they selected; political action to assess, inform and increase college access for all high school students is their mission.

Currently 20 youngsters-sophomores and juniors from the Academy of Health Sciences in Prince George County, MD are working with two history professors, Normand Lambert and Cornell Mickens, planning activities for the 200+ peers who will arrive in Maryland in the Spring. Students are focused on a variety of social justice issues which touch their lives and hearts: bullying, human trafficking, violence, poverty, gender equity and racial and religious discrimination. What these conversations lead them to understand is there is a common thread to most social injustice: lack of education by both victim and perpetrator. Students will examine how the Early/Middle College opportunity and experience: rigor and challenge with support and contact with a college environment changed their self efficacy and aspirations to complete their post secondary education and move onto fulfilling careers. Realizing that education opened doors to them and also made them more tolerant of one anothers’ beliefs, lifestyles and traditions will fuel their efforts to reach out to politicians in their local and national legislatures with the message that opportunity in this country must be open to all .

The Conference, taking place April 30-May 4 will include an Arts Exchange, trips to the Capitol, Monuments, Museums and Newseum. The highlight will be the opportunity for each student to take a photo with a member of their home district after delivering a short appeal to address more opportunities for college access in high school for all. Students from each of our Middle and Early Colleges will work with local representatives to understand current bills under consideration in their local and national legislatures that increase support for an early college/dual credit experience for all high school students. In the end, we all know that the solution that most critically impacts social justice is education and that access is determined, in most cases by location, fluency, education history, poverty, etc.

MCNC supports efforts to prepare students coming to the conference through it’s web based platform: MCNC Youth Voices2014@facebook.com. A closed group facilitated by Megan Lee, an MCNC graduate and Terry Born, the community hosts weekly forums, arts exchanges and oversees the completion of research, organization and communication tasks that are at the heart of the Leadership Initiative. This year, we will also build a Web-Exchange that will track and make available current Policy and Programs in each of our MCNC Communities so that students and Advisors can get the national perspective about EC Access for All.

For more information about the program, the conference and the on line communities: contact: tborn39396 (at) aol.com

 

Consortium Matters: The Future

Dr. Cecilia Cunningham | Director of MCNCAcademic landscapes are changing quickly and organizations need to make adaptations that keep them vital, growing and attractive to old and new members alike. Most importantly, they must remain relevant. With these thoughts in mind the Executive Board met at the Summer Conference 2013 and came to some difficult, but we feel exciting decisions about the Consortium’s future.

We discussed that we need to broaden our outreach to schools and programs that have a dual enrollment component, i.e. Middle Colleges, Early Colleges and High School Dual Enrollment programs. Our mission will be to support dual enrollment as a strategy for high school reform and as a major college and career readiness strategy. To get the word out we will be revising our logo, our web site and our membership requirements.

We have decided to reframe our Design Principles by simplifying them to four pillars for student success in college classes in high school:

• Deep Sustained Collaboration with college partners

• Aligned Academic Programs from the 9th grade through 60 credits

• Student Support appropriate to the needs of the subtends and the demands of the college

• Professional Development focused on the boundary spanning roles of high school and college staff who sustain the collaboration

These four pillars are supported and informed by student data on college success and student perceptions of their experience in Middle/Early Colleges and Dual Enrollment Programs.

We will be working on streamlining our membership application process that will include faculty ratification and college support so that it will survive changes in leadership.

Institutional collaboration is our niche and our strength and we will put that front and center in all of our work. It will be reflected in our communications and in our conference agendas.

To kick off our new focus, NCREST will look at the 8 years of data that we have and align it with our four pillars and provide a mechanism for emerging knowledge about our pillars at our Winter Leadership Conference. We will not have a traditional TA conference but use our aggregate data to inform our work more closely. The 2012-13 data will still be available for your schools at the winter conference

 

And with that in mind we share our new MCNC MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of the Middle College National Consortium is to increase the number of students nationally who have access to supported dual enrollment in Early Colleges, Middle Colleges and Dual Enrollment Programs.

By

• Providing leadership and Support for Continuous improvement in member schools and programs

• Providing Technical Assistance for new Early Colleges and Dual Enrollment Programs

• Collecting and Analyzing Data for School and Program Improvement and to validate the positive outcomes for students

• Providing cross-city and cross institutional learning opportunities about practices that result in increased college completion rates

• Ensuring that Student Voice informs school and program design through the use of student surveys and the Annual National Student Leadership Initiative

 

So that member schools and programs can develop and sustain a successful model of collaborative education that expands students’ future opportunities.

Social Justice at The Charles School

Social Justice at The Charles SchoolTHE Charles School at Ohio Dominican University brought the theme of Social Justice home to their students in both a historical and personal way. Columbus native Wil Haygood is the author of The Butler: A Witness to History, which has been on the New York Times Best Seller list since the release of the motion picture in August. It is the story that inspired Lee Daniels to direct the movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler which has been a box office smash. Mr. Haygood officially launched his book at Ohio Dominican University on the 12th of September. As a young man he was inspired to go to college through the Upward Bound program hosted at ODU and felt it a fitting place to hold the book launch. Earlier that afternoon, Mr. Haygood, through the gracious cooperation and generosity of ODU and the Brentnell Recreation Center, spoke to The Charles School students, staff, board, and members of the community at the Brentnell Recreation Center. For nearly an hour, Mr. Haygood inspired the students through his words, answered student’ questions about the movie and his life, signed books, and posed for pictures. Khara Bage a veteran MCNC Student Leadership Host Ambassador asked Mr Haywood a question. The Leadership program fosters innovative collaborations, experiential learning opportunities and collaborations with the community to develop student voices to be change agents of tomorrow.

The “Newman” on Campus: Michael Newman, New Principal at MCNC Member, Western ECHS.

Principal Michael Newman

Principal Michael Newman of Western Early College High School

Western Early College High School is a new member of Middle College National Consortium. Partnered with Jefferson Community and Technical College, WECHS was a struggling comprehensive high school in Louisville, KY when, with the support of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, it ventured into offering high school students an early college experience. Former principal, David Mike, made radical changes in student behavior, while opening the door to college for its students. Now, with the guidance and support of Middle College National Consortium and JCTC, Western Early College and its new principal, Michael Newman, are taking its program to new heights. Newman is combining educational experience, business savvy, and the love of a good challenge to address the needs and aspirations of underserved first generation college-bound students who need to meet today’s high standards to make their dreams come true. Recently Newman took some time to share with us his philosophy, experience, and plans for the future of Western ECHS.

 

What was your journey to Western ECHS? Was there any particular experience or personality trait that made you a good fit for this position?

I grew up in Louisville. From an early age I was always goal driven. I went to a large high school, where kids didn’t get a lot of counseling, because it was always assumed everyone would do well. I loved and participated in sports and I always knew I’d go to college. Even during high school, I was climbing into leadership positions. I was captain of sports teams, etc. When I did enter college, I intended to be an environmental engineer.

Once there, I realized that wasn’t the path for me. I made a one hundred eighty degree turn and became an English major. While I was in college, I also worked as a business manager and loved the opportunity to implement systems to structure an organization. When I graduated, I became a teacher in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The population was the opposite of my own experience in Louisville. I saw the void in my students’ experiences, their lack of skills, and sought from the beginning to address this. As a teacher, I sought out leadership roles and my principal counseled me to become an administrator. He pointed out that I could impact more kids than just the ones in my classes, if I could lead an entire school.

Later, I moved to Knoxville and started graduate school. There, I worked with a totally different demographic population. Again, both administrators and principals counseled me towards educational leadership. After receiving my degree, I came home to Louisville to work at Western. After a year as a teacher, I became an Assistant Principal at the school. Then, under the tutelage of Principal David Mike, I saw how effective systems could impact the behavior of students, taking the school from chaos back to order. He fostered the ideas that teachers were autonomous and that students had to be held to a model of behavior. Together, using our mutually beneficial partnership, we turned the behavioral component of a low achieving school around; I learned from him and he sought my advice on the academic life of students. The result of our efforts was that Western was able to move out of the NCLB “doghouse.” Then the state changed its accountability standards, and with the adoption of the Common Core, we fell back below again.

Western’s Early College was a program in a large comprehensive high school and not sustainable, because it targeted only a small select group of students. Over the last 3 years, representatives from the school, Woodrow Wilson, and JCTC worked as a team to redefine what the model should look like. Now, as principal, I can take my passion for young people and the lessons I learned from my turn-around work under David Mike to transform our Early College to a whole school model that gives our population tangible goals and a clear pathway to realizing them.

 

What elements of ECHS attracted you to the program?

When Western was selected to be an Early College, many people considered merge of the design of an EC program into a comprehensive public high school as a nearly impossible challenge. Because of my business background and love for logistics, I viewed it as I a start-up “company.” The program meshed with my passion for kids. Working through the EC model, I was able to offer socially disadvantaged, underserved populations a sure reality and a way to improve the conditions in their lives.

 

What changes or new directions to Western ECHS do you hope to implement?

The school has a clear goal: All Western Warriors will leave college ready, career experienced, goal driven, and reality certain. We are redesigning our Early College based on six programs of study. In this way, all coursework will be directly related to the career a student wants to pursue. For example, when a young person says he has an interest in medicine, we will set him on a pathway that feeds into the medical training available at JCTC and gives the student the knowledge that will allow him to transfer later to a four- year university.

Our plan is based on the concept of Career Academies, but takes it one step further. We will be aligning our pathways to include not only career experience, but also college experience. The six areas of study that we have outlined with Jefferson Community and Technical College are:

• Medicine

• General Arts and Humanities

• Culinary Arts

• Business, Communications and Tech

• Education

• Career- Tech

JCTC offers courses in each of these pathways, so we are in talks with these departments to further develop our ideas. For example, the chair of the Education Department wants to offer an educational theory course for our freshmen and sophomores. Later in their junior and senior years, students on the Education Pathway will take courses half-time and then full time on the college campus. We plan to follow the MCNC model of student support for college success by offering a side by side advisory program (University 111). Through this program, we will teach study skills and resume building, provide metacognitive supports and mentorships which include local business professionals. Some local businesses have already offered shadowing, internships and summer jobs to our students. One group has offered Western ECHS graduates with Associates in Arts degrees hiring priority. I see it as my mission to make sure that a career-college experience in one of these strands is available for each and every one of our students. This will make their reality certain.

 

How close is this vision to implementation?

The school district is in talks with superintendent to get approval for this plan. It makes sense to use this model to change the accountability measure of success to long-term criteria rather than the current practices of using a single test.

When the program is in full implementation, we envision limiting seats in each college pathway to 25 per grade or 150 per class. We understand the difficulties that our population comes to us with– low skills and negative academic experiences, so we are exploring extending the EC program to a fifth year to ensure greater success. We are hoping that the planning and discussions between academic, district, and business partners will be complete soon, so we can start next year with 30 students in each Pathway.

Ultimately, I see this model as benefitting more than just Western kids.

 

What opportunities and benefits to students and staff are currently available through your partnership with the college?

Students have full access to all college resources from their freshman year. JCTC, our college partner, has allowed the on-campus experience to expand to 150 students over the next 3 years.

We have another partner as well, the Louisville Rotarians, who have offered the Louisville Promise Rotary Scholarship for any student completing 60 credits. In order to qualify, our students must maintain a 2.5 GPA, have a 90% attendance rate, and have no major behavioral incidents during their high school career. The Rotarians will pay up to full tuition towards a third year at JCTC for our students. That’s the equivalent of $10,000.

 

How have you been able to maintain, expand and nurture the relationship with the college?

We honestly believe the reason the relationship is so successful is the communication between the stakeholders. We meet monthly as a board of directors to discuss programming needs, where student skills lie, and how to strengthen them. There are monthly meetings between dual credit professors and our teachers to steward the vision and expand the reach of the program to more young people.

 

Any last thoughts?

During my time here with the ECHS, we have recognized the need to be flexible and ever- changing. When problems present themselves, we see them not as obstacles, but as challenges to overcome to help more students.

 

CEC Middle College: Where College and Career Readiness Go Hand in Hand

MCNC CEC Denver

High school graduation is a time of celebration and completion, but one laced with the shadow of “What next?” Behind the happy faces of graduates tossing mortarboards and parents beaming with pride for their children’s accomplishment are questions about the future. Career Education Center students standing on the stage of Community College of Denver last Spring had clear answers and no doubts. They claimed tangible real world skills along with discipline and skills to succeed in college. This class was a landmark one for the school, with accomplishments exceeding even the highest expectations of faculty, parents, peers and the graduates themselves.

CEC Middle College has a lot to be proud of. One of the Consortium’s oldest members, it has the unique mission of offering students high school requirements, college course credits and certificate bearing classes and internships that get students college and career ready.

In September CEC was acknowledged in Denver’s Magazine, 5280 as one of the top 20 high schools on the Front Range of Colorado. But that was only one of several accolades for principal, Scott Springer who says his school is riding a wave of growing success.

“We had our largest graduating class last year of just under 100 students,” said Springer. “The 2013 class had the highest ACT scores ever. Graduates earned more than $1.7 million in scholarships and all graduates were accepted to CCD (Community College of Denver). Moreover, 87 students got offers from two colleges or more.”

CEC Middle College offers hands-on, versatile, relevant and rigorous classes for students who are earning college credits at the Denver school. Currently the school has 400 full and 320 part-time students enrolled. Part time for CEC Denver refers to students who do half days at CEC and half at their home high schools. All students are enrolled in one of eighteen career programs.

College success for these students means time saved and dollars earned. These dollars translate into savings for their families, savings for the institutions, which will not have to remediate college ready-college performing-graduates, and to graduates who are trained in fields that are waiting to hire career ready youth. Last year’s students earned more than 1,500 semester hours of college credit which adds up to more than $180,000 in college tuition. 67 students graduated with 12 college credits or more; and three graduated with more than 40 hours. Students were awarded $1,795,000 in scholarships ($900,000 by the Denver Scholarship Foundation). An unprecedented three students earned the prestigious Daniels Fund Scholarship which covers full tuition, lodging and travel for four years.

CEC graduates were also exemplary in their academics. Nineteen seniors qualified for Phi Theta Kappa, Community College of Denver’s honor organization, earning a minimum of 12 college credits and a college GPA of 3.5 or higher. This year was the first year in the history of CEC, the school brought home a school Championship. CEC’s Robotics team won the National competition, which earned them a spot to represent the school in the World Competition in St. Louis in April. Many of the team members were seniors.

MCNC and its members all congratulate CEC Denver and their principal, Scott Springer on these accomplishments and wish them nothing but mile high honors in the future.

CEC Denver Graduation

 

 

 

 

If your school has great stories to share, please share them with our readers.  Contact MCNC Newsletter

tborn39396 (at) aol.com.

 

Fulfulling Promises: Winter 2014

Fulfulling Promises: Winter 2014

 

 

 

Consortium Matters

Cecilia CunninghamThe landscape of American education is rapidly adjusting to higher standards, more frequent testing and higher stakes for educators and students alike. Though Arne Duncan issued a temporary reprieve on roll out till 2016, the Common Core State Standards have been adopted by 45 states and teacher and school evaluation will be intimately and legally bound to how rapidly and effectively student performance climbs up these ladders.

Also in the news is the Supreme Court decision on Affirmative Action which addresses the post-Great Recession America question: Which is the bigger barrier to opportunity-race or class? Though racial barriers certainly still exist, a mountain of evidence exists that quality higher education is tilting further toward the already wealthy.

It’s for these reasons that the 2013 MCNC Summer Conference is focused on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the issue of poverty as it impacts aspirations of all American youth.

MCNC and its member schools and colleges pride themselves in championing the disenfranchised and supporting all students to be college and career ready. Latest data (2011-2012) from NCREST studied 25 schools and almost 7000 students in grades 9-13.  These students represented 67% Black and Hispanic youth with 63% receiving free or reduced lunch. On both criteria of minority identification and poverty, MCNC schools have demonstrated consistent success at the schools and beyond, into post-secondary education. Ninety percent of middle and early college students in the Consortium had taken college courses during their time in high school. The most recent cohort accumulated 33.7% college credits-equivalent to more than one year of college coursework.  This is the highest average over the past seven years. Furthermore, college course taking twelfth graders have performed consistently over that time period with last year’s cohort earning a GPA average of 2.75. Ninety two percent of our graduates declared the aspiration to continue with their education upon graduation and data confirmed that 90% of the 2010-11graduates enrolled in a post-secondary institution.

MCNC appreciates the  mission to support  its membership with the current language, systems and strategies to maintain success in the national arena. This year’s focus on Common Core State Standards is designed to bring those research based practices to all it’s members. Intruding them to specifics strategies, incorporating differentiation and writing across the curriculum, as well as quality performance based mathematics instruction will serve to better prepare all students to meet the challenges of successful simultaneous high school- college attendance and completion with greater independence, confidence and performance.

The current focus on the impact of poverty and class on all of our students

Was recently brought back to my attention when I attended the MCNC Student Leadership Conference in Columbus, Ohio. The Mid Ohio Food Bank engaged students and teachers in a poverty simulation that sensitized us to the hidden influence poverty has on connecting youngsters and their families to education, aspiration, self efficacy and ultimately, reaching their potential. We are fortunate to be able to recreate this experience for all our attending members and we know they will, in turn, bring it back to their faculties and communities to use to propel us ever forward regardless of the current trends.

Early College in Houston

by Justin Fuentes, former Dean of Students and Principal at Challenge Early College, MCNC Board Member, and currently School Support Officer for all of the Houston ISD Early College High Schools

houston graduates2It has been my pleasure to have been with the HISD Early College Initiative since its inception, I am Justin Fuentes, once Dean of Students and Principal at Challenge Early College, and serve as a board member for the MCNC, and currently am School Support Officer for all of our Early College High Schools.  To brag a bit, two of our schools have achieved National Blue Ribbon Award status, all of our schools have achieved an Exemplary rating via the Texas Education Agency, about 50% of our graduates have achieved an Associates Degree while all have left with college credits, many of our students have gone to Ivy League schools, participated in Internships abroad, and even served our country through military service. More than a few are currently working in HISD, and even my own son was a graduate from our schools.  This is our story.

 

In the early 2000’s, during the peak of the small schools movement, a discussion was going on in Houston around how to build schools for the many different subsections of its expanding community.  This was also a time when funding in public education was plush, so it wasn’t only our public K-12 schools that were looking for alternatives to student success.

In Houston, the driver of this conversation was the Houston A+ Challenge.  This organization was an offshoot of the Annenburg Foundation that had been pumping major funding into public education with a focus on changing it from traditional to something new.  They had been working with Houston Independent School District (HISD) for some time in the areas of professional growth, communication, and collaboration through the use of theories and structures such as Critical Friends Groups, Professional Learning Communities, Data-driven Instruction, etc.  They now wanted to help develop a school where all of these were tenets for both adult- and student-level growth and learning.

After much research into the new and exciting constructs that were being promoted for schooling nation-wide, the Houston A+ Challenge saw an opportunity via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and their newly promoted Early College High Schools Initiative.  These were to be schools that sit on a college campus where students earn both their high school and college Associate’s Degrees concurrently.  This not only created a need for a partnership with HISD, but also one of the many institutions of higher education in the city of Houston.

Provided the high pace of funding for new and innovative programs for students of all levels, the local community college had a need to provide alternative methods to attract students to its doors and to do it fast.  When Houston Community College (HCC) was approached by Houston A+ Challenge about the opportunity to host an Early College it was an easy win.

In 2003 Challenge Early College was opened, closed, opened, closed again, and finally reopened one month before school started.  Challenge became one of the new innovative schools that HISD was opening and others in the state of Texas started to notice.

After two successful years of educating students and partnering with HCC, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) partnering with the Texas High School Project and Jobs For the Future came to Challenge to use it as its primary replication site for the state initiative.  During the 2005-2006 school year upwards of 100 different school districts came to visit and see if Early College was in their future, currently there are over 50 in the state of Texas, 9 in the Houston metropolitan area, and 4 in HISD with another on the way.

With the addition of the new school given a victory in our current bond initiative, we will have an Early College at every compass point within the city of Houston.  Currently Challenge is in the west, East ECHS on the east side, North Houston ECHS on the north side, Houston Academy of International Studies ECHS is located in the downtown center of our city, and the new school will reside on the south side of the city sprawl.  These strategic placements maintain service to all communities in our city, allow for less student travel given that HISD’s Early Colleges are not provided with district transportation, and provide for continuity between the various campuses within HCC.

 

Given the variation in the HCC campuses where the HISD Early College’s reside, there is some difference in the programs provided by each.

  • Challenge and North Houston are located on large campuses which allow for students to be embedded into about ninety percent of their college courses, With a focus on general AA/AS degrees at the college the credits that the students accrue are similarly focused on generalized degree requirements.
  • East is on a campus where their building was constructed before the college campus so a majority of their classes are taught in a cohort fashion, again with a focus on generalized degree requirements, but a bit more on math and science than the other schools.
  • The Houston Academy of International Studies, as its name describes, pushes students toward coursework in international business and communication while the majority of their students take embedded coursework while having to take a bus to the college campus at the main building which is five blocks away.
  • The new school on the south side of town is going to specifically have a STEM, or Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics, focus, and since it is on a college campus also being built, the students will likely take the majority of their coursework in cohort classes.

 

The five Early College High Schools in HISD are under the supervision of one administrator, or School Support Officer, which provides for a sharper focus on their needs.  The schools have always shared a kinship and collaborated regardless but working under the leadership and within a common structure their opportunities and resources are optimized.  The Early College High Schools, with other charter schools, have created a “small schools league” which started with school based soccer teams and now has expanded to other sports of student interest.  They have always shared information regarding college textbook pricing, school staffing, course alignment, and specific details of running their unique schools.

 

In the last two years they have formed a “small schools collaborative” in which they hold common professional development sessions in pre-service days and throughout the school year.  Here they make time for teachers of similar subjects to collaborate on curriculum and instruction and build benchmark exams to gauge student progress toward success on state tests.  They have also done inter-school Instructional Rounds so that their small departments get to see how others work and provide constructive feedback for the school hosting the session.  The collaborative has even decided to make the MCNC’s Peer Review process a common structure.

 

Extending their work to continually improve their schools there is still work done with the other local Early Colleges, and currently three of the four campuses belong to the MCNC.  In HISD these schools are looked upon with respect as they are extremely successful, but still must maintain and educate others to the point that they are not schools for the easily educated or students from prosperous backgrounds – they truly are Early College’s by the Gates definition!

 

To get a true snapshot of each of the Houston ECHS’s read what their principal’s have to say:

  • Challenge Early College/Tonya Miller:
    •  I am Tonya Miller, and I have had the privilege of serving Houston’s early colleges since 2008. Prior to becoming the Principal of Challenge in July of 2011, I was the Dean of Instruction at North Houston for three years. There, I was also involved in the planning and groundwork in the months leading up to the opening in August of 2008.
    • Early college in Houston has created equity in education for traditionally underrepresented students who now have the opportunity to receive both a college education and Advanced Placement coursework.  At Challenge, we have closed the achievement gap between subgroups of students. The expectation and program design is such that all races, ethnicities, regardless of socio-economic background achieve. Our relationships with students and the mentorship they receive are what ensure student success in a rigorous program that exposes them to real college classes at an early age. Our location, inside of a college building, affords students the unique opportunity of a true college experience which includes both the opportunities, exposure to a diverse student body and ideas as well as the challenges. Students grapple with paying fees, registering for classes, college placement exams and having conversations with professors and college officials. To brag a bit, our senior class of 2012 left with $3.1 million in scholarships, and the class of 2013 will surpass that amount. One hundred percent of students who apply to four year universities are accepted.  Esteemed publications such as the Washington Post, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report all list us as one of the top high schools in the nation. We were also named a 2011 Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Dept of Education. I am proud to say that Houston Early College runs through my veins!
  • East Early College/Tamera Bolden:
    • Early College in Houston has grown from what was first thought to be another flash in the pan that would disappear, to a safe haven for Houston’s at-risk students.  Our students would most likely disappear within a large comprehensive high school. They would be the ones to flounder, get into trouble, or drop out due to family situations.  When we first opened in 2006, we were largely ignored.  After years of consistent high achievement and attendance rates, opinions changed.
    • East Early College recruits solely from the East and Southeast regions of Houston.  The needs of students on the Eastside are different from those North, South, or Central.  We utilize local resources such as area YMCA’s, Neighborhood Centers/Ripley House, local businesses and local residents.  Our students do required community service hours in elementary and middle schools, the facilities named above, local libraries as well as city-wide.
    • One early concern was a lack of transportation as a factor that might hinder success, but at East Early College our attendance has ranged from highest to second-highest among HISD high schools (98.1-98.8% between 2006 and 2012).  This is due to our constant monitoring and counseling of students and families about attendance, which as we know, generally stems from social or economic issues.
    • The consistency of excellence has been achieved through all of us sharing within the collaborative and by all of us holding firm to the early college principles of rigorous instruction, relevance by exposure to college-bound culture, and close relationships with our students and their families.  All five EC principals and our School Improvement Officer Justin Fuentes ensure that the team not only targets populations underrepresented on college campuses, students of low SES, minorities, and first-generation college goers, but also supports them with social workers, advocacy/advisory and constant monitoring by deans and college access coordinators.
  • Houston Academy for International Studies Early College, Principal Melissa Jacobs:
    • The Houston Academy for International Studies was started as primarily an international studies school in the Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network.  We began with a focus on “internationalizing” our inner-city students with Model United Nations, language study and world travel and the thought that they could also earn some college credit.  In our 3rd year we applied for and received a TEA grant to become an Early College High School.  This gave us the structure, planning protocols, and authority to begin getting our student on the track to earning an Associate’s Degree with their high school diploma.  The paradigm shift from offering the world and some college credit to the world and an Associate’s degree has been a big one.  Getting our “at-risk” and economically disadvantaged students to step outside their current reality and see their role as global citizens and college scholars has been both challenging and rewarding.
  • North Houston Early College, Principal Angela Lundy-Jackson:
    • North Houston Early College High School operates on the philosophy that people should and can be lifelong learners.  To that end, as we interview perspective students our focus is not primarily on how far they have come, but rather how far they wish to go.  We strive to provide a rigorous curriculum that is in line with the state standards, but which goes further than what is required.  Our students are varied in their academic abilities, interests, and plans, but they all have a common goal of attaining admission to a four year college or university.    Our school serves students who are mostly from the North Houston community.   Because many of our students are first generation college students, they instill a sense of pride to their families and their neighbors.  We serve the students who are underrepresented in the academic arena: the poor, the immigrants, the minorities, and the at-risk.  Our faculty, too, come from different backgrounds and diverse educational levels.  All have Bachelor’s, most have Master’s, and some have Doctorates.  Their differences are eclipsed only by their passion to see the students succeed and to ensure that they learn more than test preparation, but life skills which will guide them into greater research and discovery.
    • North Houston Early College High School is in its fifth year of operation.  Last year, we graduated our first group of seniors and over half of them (67) earned Associates degrees along with their high school diplomas.  The class as a whole was awarded over 2.3 million dollars in scholarship money, and most were admitted to 4 year universities.  This year, members of our senior class have  received full ride scholarships, admittance into universities all over the country, membership into the prestigious Posse Foundation, and awards for community service.  At North Houston Early College High School, our students’ tomorrow begins today.

 

And a final word from Justin Fuentes….

We have maintained the vision that we started with, making both children and adults be continuous learners, and what makes me most proud is that our schools are places where people want to be, which includes me.