Who Needs High School?

(Guest Post by Collin Hitt)

My introductory college courses were far better than the pap I was offered junior and senior years of high school. I remember wondering as a freshman at Southern Illinois University, why didn’t they offer these classes at Springfield High?

Now enter early college high schools, where kids take college courses at their high schools, which are often located on college campuses. A new gold standard study of ten early colleges finds that they raise reading scores, high school graduation rates, college attendance and – 7 years after high school began – college attainment. It turns out, making senior year more useful makes high school better for everyone.

The study, from the American Institutes for Research, uses gold-standard random assignment methods to evaluate the Early College High School Initiative that was launched by the Gates Foundation over a decade ago. The study looked at early college high schools, which offer kids the opportunity to earn college credit – even a two year college degree – while still in high school. The schools are typically formed in partnership with colleges and big-name employers, like IBM.

The AIR evaluation looked at 10 early college high schools that received Gates Foundation support. All were schools of choice that used lotteries to admit students, a majority of whom were low income. All of the schools were small; four of them were charter schools. We already have some evidence that small schools and charter high schools improved high school graduation and college going rates. The findings from the AIR evaluation are consistent with that literature; they find that early colleges increase graduation rates by 6-10 points and ever enrolling in college by 9 to 17 points.

The study mainly focused on “intent to treat” effects, i.e. whether the offer of a seat in an early college increased student achievement. The effects of actually attending an early college were buried in Appendix E. The effects are quite large.

The remarkable difference in early colleges is that 26.9 percent of early college students had completed a postsecondary degree by the time of the study, compared to 0.9 percent of the control group. Time will tell if those differences persist. But even if the control group eventually matches the early college students in educational attainment, the early college students will have likely entered the workforce much earlier and with far fewer student loans.

One of the most interesting developments in education today is the blurring line between secondary and postsecondary education. Colleges are increasingly doing the work of high schools. In early colleges, they are helping to offer college content. On the other hand, in remedial education, community colleges are teaching material that high schools failed to teach. Also, colleges will be expanding the online offerings available to high school students, which will be disruptive to the high school model. Where are we headed? A brave new world of neo-secondary education? I don’t know – hopefully towards a world where senior year of high school isn’t a complete waste of time.

3 Responses to Who Needs High School?

  1. […] The lines between high school and college are blurring, and that might be a good thing. (Jay Greene) […]

  2. Education Is says:

    Nice piece, but two clarifications: you mention that early college high schools are “typically formed in partnerships with colleges and big-name employers, like IBM.” In truth, these partnerships are extremely rare. The school you allude to is P-TECH in Brooklyn NY, which opened in 2011 as a first-of-its-kind partnership model that is being replicated nationwide. This school is not funded by the Gates Foundation, and the foundation has actually moved away from funding early college, despite the evidence that it is an effective investment (source: http://communitycollegespotlight.org/content/early-colleges-hit-by-funding-cuts_3066/)

  3. MOMwithArain says:

    As long as this is really “college level” learning and not high school level learning as taught in many of our community colleges.
    The dumbing down has contributed to community colleges picking up the slack from the k-12 schools.
    Letting public schools off the hook for their failures doesn’t solve anything.
    Yes, I do agree that kids should enroll in these classes if they are fully ready for college level learning and this is NOT part of passing on the k-12 failures.

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