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Reducing Barriers to Postsecondary Education

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Expanding Opportunities Through Blended Learning

The United States has a long way to go if we are to see every student complete at least a year of higher education or postsecondary career training. There is no way to achieve this target unless we can dramatically reduce the number of students who leave high school without getting a diploma and/or who are unprepared for postsecondary education. A complex set of personal and academic factors underlie students’ decision to leave school or to disengage from learning, and no one strategy will prevent every separation from the education system. But there are practices supported with technology that can help address the problem.

First, there is the issue of identifying students’ difficulties early and providing extra support where needed. Support should start as early as possible, before children enter school, and should become intensified for those students who need it as they move through school. From the point of high school entry, every student could have a learning dashboard indicating whether or not his or her course enrollments and performance are on track for high school graduation and qualification for college entry. Such a system could make “smart” suggestions about options for fulfilling requirements, including the possibility of earning credits for courses taken during the summer, in alternative programs, at community colleges, or online.

When prevention fails and students quit attending school for a period of time, we must have multiple options for reconnecting them with the education system. Such students often become discouraged about their prospects for being able to earn the credits needed for graduation or have an aversion to returning to a school where they will be in classes with younger students rather than their original cohort.

Increasingly, secondary students are taking courses online to earn credit for courses they initially failed or missed because they were not attending school. Such courses can be taken under any number of arrangements – independently in the evening, during summer sessions, in a night school, or during the school day with a member of the teaching staff who provides encouragement and support as the student works with the online material.

In Walled Lake Consolidated School District in Michigan, for example, students can recover course credits through online summer school courses. The summer credit recovery program has worked so well that the district is developing a plan that will allow students to stay in high school while working by attending class in their brick-and-mortar school for four hours a day and taking their other two courses online at their convenience.

Another example is provided by Tarrant High School in Alabama. Tarrant students are taking advantage of ACCESS, the state’s online learning program, to take courses before or after school or in the summer in order to recover credits for courses they have failed or to graduate earlier. The school’s principal believes that ACCESS has been a significant factor in raising her school’s graduation rate from 66% in 2006 to 80% in 2008. Research conducted in the state of Washington has concluded similarly that online credit recovery can help increase graduation rates (Baker et al., 2006).

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Re: Productivity/Reducing Barriers to Postsecondary Education

This is an important focus area, and I'm heartened by examples mentioned, such as the ACCESS and summer school credit recovery programs. But, while these programs often have impressive figures when it comes to improved retention and high school completion, I don't see much mention of the skill levels of students pursuing these alternative educational options. Increasing graduation rates is important -- but not at the expense of building the foundational skills needed for college success. Are there studies showing how the skill levels of students such alternate means of credit measure up against peers following more traditional credentialing options? How do these students' attendance and persistence rates at postsecondary institutions compare to their peers'?

Is evaluative research of this sort part of what is encompassed under the plan's Assessment priorities and research program?