Teaching Opinion

Great & Gruesome K-12/Higher Ed. Encounters

By Joe Nathan — September 18, 2015 5 min read
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Today, Deborah and Joe Nathan conclude their exchanges. Joe begins, followed by a response from Deborah and a brief comment from Joe.

Deb, some of the best, and worst aspects of democracy are displayed in recent K-12/post-secondary education interactions. We’ve seen respect and disrespect, collaboration and confrontation. With the ironically named “Higher” Learning Commission, we’ve seen abuse of power, particularly their most recent decisions undermining the ability of students to earn college credits while in high school.

Let’s start with collaboration and respect. For the last four summers, Minnesota district, charter, k-12 and post-secondary educators and students have learned from each other. This helps more students be better prepared for education beyond high school.

Recent high school graduates, now in college described how educators helped them, and additional ways to help. This year students suggested that, for example:

High school faculty distribute a syllabus in the first day of class, so students could have an overall view of the class

  • College faculty should try getting to know students as individuals like at least some high school faculty do.
  • Earning college credits while still in high school, gives students confidence and insight in college expectations.

After students spoke, college faculty from two and four year colleges and universities shared expectations for entering students, in reading, writing, math, history and biology. Then high school faculty described some of their most effective teaching techniques. As many “higher” education faculty have not been trained to teach, they rated this highly. These sessions, which our Center facilitated, model mutual respect and collaboration. This year they brought together rural, urban and suburban, district and charter educators. We appreciate help from Otto Bremer, Bigelow, St. Paul, Securian, Travelers foundations and the St. Paul Public Schools.

The Higher Learning Commission, which accredits colleges and universities in 19 states, models disrespect and confrontation with high schools. Despite no consultation with K-12 educators, students or families in Minnesota (or to our knowledge, other states), HLC has new demands on high schools. In 40 years, I’ve never seen such united fury from rural, urban, suburban, district and charter educators, as the HLC’s autocratic efforts have produced.

HLC decided that to teach college level courses, high school faculty must have either a master’s in their field, or a master’s in teaching and 18 additional credits in the field they would be teaching..

These new requirements ignore research that shows that students who participate in current “college in the schools” courses, without such requirements, graduate more quickly than comparable students who don’t take these courses. Minnesota Department of Education research shows that for every racial and economic group, dual courses also have a major impact on high school graduation rates - up to 30 points difference.

Some college faculty fear that more deal credit means fewer students taking entry level classes. Students earning dual credits can graduate earlier. Of course, families and students love this. But they don’t seem to matter much to HLC.

Currently college faculty must approve high school faculty, train and then evaluate their work. This is creative, constructive collaboration. That’s democracy at its best.

The Minnesota Rural Education Association calls HLC’s action a “one size fits all” approach. Minnesota Association of School Administrators, Minnesota Charter School Association and other groups have urged HLC to revise its approach. Minnesota’s largest daily newspaper, a strong public school supporter, blasted the new HLC policy.

People in several states are opposing new HLC’s new policy. To join the challenge, contact joe@centerforschoolchange.org

Deborah Meier responds:

Dear Joe,

Most of all, I’m with you 100% regarding how this decision was made. If not surprised. The disrespect that college faculties often demonstrate to high school faculties in their own field has always astounded me.

It probably didn’t hit me as hard as you because in the states I’ve worked in high school teachers have for a very long time been required to have an MA (ditto for elementary teachers) on their field, or an MA and a certain number of courses in any field they teach.

Given the evidence you refer to I think we may have reason to rethink such requirements. But they don’t seem as unreasonable to me as you. We finessed that at the old CPESS high school by pairing teachers who had related disciplines teaching inter-disciplinary courses. What’s different about these college-level courses than AP courses? Actually we didn’t have Aps either at CPESS. We had students take courses at college campuses so that they’d get a feel for the kind of expectations colleges had. Or had college faculty teach a course on our campus. Students had a choice of getting college credit for these or working with high school faculty member to get high school credit for the course. Yes, that’s easier to do in NYC than rural areas!

Maybe it is worth exploring why more high school courses aren’t intellectually challenging? That shouldn’t have to wait for college.

Good luck in getting this policy reconsidered with mutual input from all concerned

Joe responds:

Deb, thanks for your encouragement. The courses I’m describing differ from AP in how the student’s work is judged. With concurrent enrollment, also called “College in the Schools,”, college and high school credit are awarded based on the students work over an entire semester or year. WIth AP, college credit is awarded based on how well a student does on one day, and one test. While I think AP has value, I think you and I agree that it’s better to not rely on a single test to make a judgement about what a student learned, and whether she/he deserves credit. Ironically, the HLC policy does not have an impact on AP instructors - only those who are working directly with colleges and universities.

We’re encouraged by the bi-partisan challenge to the HLC by legislators across the political spectrum - Republicans and Democrats. District, charter, rural, urban and suburban educators, students and families, along with various civil and community groups are joining this challenge. We hope HLC listens.

Joe Nathan has received local, state and national awards for his inner city public school teaching and work as an administrator. He directs the Center for School Change, and also has served as a Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School, where he taught for 22 years.

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