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Dual-credit high school classes a good introduction, but college work they are not

Starting college in high school

Idaho helps high school students pay for college classes and they are showing up in large numbers.
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Idaho helps high school students pay for college classes and they are showing up in large numbers.

“Pretty soon college is going to be the new eighth grade.”

That frustrated comment from a colleague resurfaces from time to time. I remembered it well as I read Bill Robert’s article in the Dec. 13 Statesman.

I was teaching at a community college when the conversation turned to the foundational knowledge and skills of our students. Dual credit came up. Our concerns included the quality of the courses as presented to high school students, the qualifications of the instructors, availability of resources, and how well students are screened for dual credit.

As more students take dual credit, there is the probability that student preparation and motivation will decrease. Idaho’s career ladder for teachers offers no incentives for advanced degrees and experience, yet dual credit teachers are expected to have a master’s degree. Today, some dual credit teachers do not have the background and experience to teach these classes. School districts already under financial stress find that purchasing expensive college-level textbooks and the necessary lab supplies not only adds to the financial challenges, but takes away from other programs.

Dual credit appeals to parents and to students. For some it’s the challenge, but for many it’s about pride. Dual credit may appeal more to college presidents than it does to the professors, as having large numbers of high school students enrolled makes the numbers and the bottom line look better. High school teachers may recruit students as they are paid by enrollment. A hard look at perverse incentives is called for.

In order to determine the cost/benefits of dual credit, one would have to conduct an audit, and that is something I would encourage.

Short of an audit, what can parents and students do to get the information they need regarding dual credit? As a former AP chemistry teacher, I recommend that students and parents realize that dual credit and AP classes are supposed to be rigorous. They should also know that even a high-quality class taught by a qualified teacher is not the same as the class taught in college. I’ve always recommended that my students take the same class in college. I also want students to know about the time demands of a college-level course. College students take far fewer classes than high school students because many hours of outside work are expected. Finally, I want students to know that the class they take is most likely not going to be accepted for major credit. It will be elective credit.

What can policymakers do? I would hope that the Idaho legislators listen, research and conduct an audit. Dual credit has been promoted as the next shiny new thing. Don’t be blinded by special interest groups and those with an agenda. Dual credit offers high school students opportunities to find out what college is like. I support that. But high school is not college. High school should remain high school so college does not become the new eighth grade.

Mary Ollie taught AP chemistry and physics at the high school level. She recently completed nine years of teaching chemistry at a local community college.

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