College in High School?
The president of a nonprofit that supports charter schools in Colorado, Indiana, and Louisiana says high schools should change their focus. GEO Foundation President Kevin Teasley said far too many high school administrators are concerned with having bigger buildings and offering more and more courses when they should be concerned with helping students gain college credit.
He said he was left scratching his head earlier this year when some political candidates talked about the feasibility of free college, a goal that he says can be accomplished with a change in priorities. “It is possible all across the country if everybody just was more disciplined on how they’re spending K-12 dollars,” said Teasley. “I get up every morning trying to figure out how I can get kids college degrees. I don’t get up in the morning saying, ‘Gee, how much bigger can I get my high school? What new class can I offer in my high school?’ I don’t do that.”
Teasley said high schools with 5,000 students that offer every elective imaginable and five or six different foreign languages are taking the wrong approach. “It’s well-intended, but I don’t think it’s appropriate,” said Teasley. “It’s limiting students to a high school experience when they can go take that same Spanish course at the college level, Spanish 101, and get a college credit and a high school credit.”
That’s what students are encouraged to do at the GEO Foundation’s 21st Century Charter School at Gary. Students who attend this K-12 charter school in Gary, Ind., are required to have at least three college credits to graduate. But school administrators hope they earn much more than that. The school also pays for these courses along with students’ textbooks. “I like to say we do dual credit on steroids,” said Teasley.
At 21st Century Charter School, all students take community college placement tests in the 9th grade. If they pass at least one part of the three-part test, they begin taking college courses as freshmen in high school. If the students run into trouble, high school staff steps in to help them with the material. Next spring, eight 21st Century Charter School students are expected to graduate with associate degrees. Since 2012, seven students have graduated with associate degrees.The school also has one student who’s set to graduate from high school in the spring with an associate degree from Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana and a bachelor’s degree from Purdue University Northwest.
The ‘Real’ College Experience
Unlike some high schools that offer college courses on their campuses, 21st Century Charter School provides transportation for students to take these courses at community colleges or four-year schools. “We need our kids to get the real college experience, so we send them to the college itself to get that experience sitting with students that don’t look like them, that are older than them, that sort of thing,” said Teasley. “It’s a maturity issue as much as it’s a learning issue.”
So how does the school pay for all of this?
Teasley said it uses the resources it receives from the state. “The only way we’re able to do it is by being very disciplined in how we spend our money,” said Teasley. “Every year I actually want to see the number of dollars that we spend on college going up. That’s the one line item I want to see going up every year because if we’re doing that, that means more students are taking college courses.”
Last year, Teasley said the school spent $85,000 on 700 college credits in 30 different courses for about 100 students. The school began its dual enrollment program in the 2009-10 school year. The first student graduated with an associate degree in 2012. By 2020, 21st Century Charter School hopes to see all of its graduates finish high school with a two-year degree. About 900 students attend the school, which has an average graduating class size of 50.