There’s been a lot of talk lately about college- and career- readiness, and the Harkin-Enzi ESEA reauthorization bill is no exception. While Title I, Part A focuses on standards and accountability to ensure college and career readiness for all students, Part B is renamed Pathways to College and would authorize funding for a new competitive grant program supporting pathways to postsecondary success for all students. Pathways to College includes two programs: 1) Improving secondary schools by adopting Graduation Promise Academies, Career Academies, and Early College Schools; and 2) Accelerating learning with Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.
In this first of two posts on Pathways to College, we highlight the more noteworthy aspects of this new initiative, while in part two we will evaluate the implications of the program.
Improving Secondary Schools
Awarded competitively to school districts and an external partner, these matching grants aim to incentivize districts to implement various high school reform strategies to ensure students graduate college- and career-ready. These funds would go to high schools that were not identified as Achievement Gap or Persistently Low-Achieving in Part A. Also included is funding for feeder middle schools—those middle schools where a majority of students enter a “bad, but not so bad” high school that has a graduation rate below 75% and is low performing. In an attempt to bridge the middle and high school divide and identify students early who are at risk of dropping out, the grant stipulates that districts must spend money on both creating and implementing an early warning indicator system in middle schools. Everyone Graduates Center describes one way this could work: they found that over 50 percent of Philadelphia’s high school dropouts could be identified in 8th grade with just three indicators: 1) failing math in 8th grade; 2) failing English in 8th grade; and 3) attending school less than 80 percent of the time.
Additionally, for lower performing high schools some of the funding requirements include increasing student engagement through service and work-based learning opportunities, giving school leaders autonomy through flexible budgeting and staffing, and increasing the rigor of course offerings through such programs as AP and IB. Perhaps the most innovative requirement is to implement one of three prominent high school reform strategies. Depending on each eligible school’s need, districts would choose among implementing a Graduation Promise Academy, Career Academy, or Early College School.
- Promise Academies focus heavily on an extended learning time model with an after-hours credit recovery model. In the Harlem Children Zone, students are immersed in their school culture for over 10 hours a day in a longer school year with comprehensive health and counseling supports.
- Career Academies infuse academics with career technical education and experiential, work-based experiences. In Baltimore, the career academy helps high school dropouts between ages 16 to 21 earn a GED, a job, or attend college. Georgia is contemplating using this model statewide.
- Early Colleges collaborate with one or more institutions of higher education to allow students to simultaneously earn credits towards a high school diploma and up to two years of college credits. The Hidalgo Independent School District in Texas, for example, has successfully scaled and implemented this reform strategy for all of its elementary, middle, and high schools.
The accelerated learning portion of Pathways to College is a reworking of the Access to High Standards Act which also encourages schools to participate in the Advanced Placement program. In Pathways, priority funding is given to State educational agencies to reimburse low-income students part or all of the costs of the AP or IB examination. Any remaining funds are used for an AP and IB incentive program that focuses, among other things, on increasing the number of AP and IB courses offered at high-need schools, the number of teachers qualified to teach these courses, and the number of students who enroll and take the appropriate examinations. Also, the accelerated learning program calls for entities to not only report outcomes but to also evaluate the implementation and impact of their program.
The question is: will Pathways to College help students from lower performing, high-need schools become ready for postsecondary success? We evaluate the answer to this in Part 2 of our Pathways series.
Written by Education Sector policy analyst Rachel Fishman and research assistant Mary Nguyen.