POSTED ON FEBRUARY 27, 2013:
A new school path for T-Town
I hadn't been on a school bus, one of those big yellow iconic things, for a long time.
I decided to venture out on a bus trip with Dr. Bruce Niemi (a close friend) and his Rogers high school/early college "pilot" kids because I listened to President Obama spotlight the future of the American high school last week. In his speech, Obama lifted up a new high school in Brooklyn called P--TECH, the Pathways in Technology Early College High School, which is a new but already celebrated joint venture of the New York City public school system, the City University of New York, and IBM.
Diane Brady and Ira Sager, Bloomberg business writers, highlighted P-TECH earlier in February:
"The 18-month-old experiment has caught not only the president's eye but the attention of companies, politicians, and educators across the nation. The Brooklyn school takes students in the ninth grade and aims to have them graduate six years later with both a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering -- not to mention a likely job at IBM. As President Obama said, We need to give every American student opportunities like this ... The students all have IBM mentors, who help them navigate. Because there are no academic screens or special tests to get in, no charter school freedoms, no tuition, and no ability to dispense with core standards, the model has been widely embraced by educators as one that can be replicated. In fact, although barely into its second year, P-TECH's early successes have spawned five schools in Chicago and New York."
"EXCELerate" & Green Country
Niemi is part of the early college/high school project at Rogers High in Tulsa: his history students are part of a small, strategically vital pilot project. TPS and Union Public School juniors and seniors, and a small number of sophomores, can earn college credits in high school via the three-year-old EXCELerate project, which is a concurrent enrollment partnership with Tulsa Community College. EXCELerate is a grand step in the right direction for Green Country, and one that is broadly consistent with the new school-workplace pathway outlined by the president in his State of The Union speech. But our early college effort is a gem with significant limitations, most related to state funding constraints and a passel of state-mandated course load rules.
EXCELerate students at recent TCC Orientation
COURTESY OF TULSA PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Currently, the program involves about 300 Tulsa public school students and slightly over 400 Union system kids, hailing from most of our area's High Schools.
Part of the compelling character of our T-Town early college project is simple affordability. EXCELerate classes cost $12.75 for all fees, books, and materials while a traditional college or university class fetches about $607. And EXCELerate students also get free access to TCC college tutoring and facilities, including access to TCC fitness centers, learning and resource centers, writing labs, and TCC's math/computer labs. Currently students who want to be part of the program have to have a 2.5 GPA or a composite ACT score of 19 or greater in the college courses they want to take.
According to Niemi, "The president pointed out how in Germany secondary school students graduated with skills suited for today's industrial jobs and called for American high schools to provide for junior college courses so our graduates can receive both a diploma and an associate's degree. The EXCELerate program is doing just that at Will Rogers Early College High School and other TPS high schools across the district, and at Union Collegiate High. The early college high program evolved from the 2009 superintendent's alternative education task force recommendations for dropout prevention and to engage bright students.
"Today," Niemi added, "juniors and seniors at Rogers and across the district, most of whom are first generation college students, are enrolled in concurrent courses in history, psychology, art, English composition, nutrition, and algebra paid for by the district's taxpayers. ... Only four years ago when only a handful of pupils at Edison and Booker T. Washington high schools were paying full tuition and traveling at their own expense to TCC campuses for concurrent classes..."
Niemi is also a veteran career education and training guru with a stout interest in America's industrial history. He wanted to give his Roger's history class students a vibrant sense of industrializing America -- that is the bustling world in play just prior to the Civil War. He sought, he explained, to give the 24 students who made the trip direct exposure to a giant hub with rail lines, water canals, barges, and giant cargo machines. So the Port of Catoosa, which is Tulsa's multi-modal transport hub, and has been since 1971, was a logical venue.
A lot of the newfound interest in U.S. high schools comes from the dramatic decay of high-paying, non-college jobs in America's manufacturing sector. But there are a host of other powerful "rapids" in play as well:
• Service "Science"
A heightened focus on using complex productivity strategies to get a handle on exploding cost of healthcare, higher education, and America's feverishly evolving service economy. There is enormous interest, for example, in using digital technology to manage healthcare transactions, records, and care interventions. The educational implications of this change are immense.
• Exploding Cost of Higher Ed & Post High School Prep
There is an accelerating crisis in the cost of college education: explosive tuition increases in recent years. President Obama also said in his State of the Union that he wants to address this problem by tying federal aid for colleges to a set of performance/tuition cost metrics: something unheard of in American higher education.
Massively organized online courses (MOOGs) have emerged as a movement to provide high-quality educational experiences via the Internet and real-time interactive media. As readers may know, it's now possible to use a mobile device or a desktop computer to listen to world-class teachers talk about developments in medicine, civil engineering, trade with China, and the latest developments -- or the basics -- in bioscience. Premier institutions like MIT, Harvard, Yale, and the University of Texas at Austin have opened up huge segments of their curricula to video coverage and have supported the high quality interactive web offering of lectures/notes via iTunes and other platforms.
I spent some time talking this week to Lisa Reynolds, who is the coordinator for TPS's concurrent enrollment program. Reynolds told me that TCC will soon take the early college/high program, which again, is a three-year trial project, before the State Board of Regents to secure permission to continue the effort. Reynolds' news is surely of great interest to students who are in the existing program -- and more importantly, to a larger cadre who may join up in the next year or so. In Oklahoma, concurrent enrollment efforts are constrained by state budget allocations that are used to reduce tuition and other expenses for participating students. So, a dramatic expansion of the program will require additional appropriations or better use of funds employed for other items.
Excitedly, Obama's interest in "super highs" also means that new federal/competitive dollars may be available to communities that want to explore the high school/college path way -- so T-Town is on the right road. We just need to speed up.
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