Monday, October 17, 2016

Earn A College Degree At The Same Time As A High School Degree? Preposterous!

Ninth grade biology teacher Robin Barkes, center, explains a class
Students at Florida Atlantic University High School where it is claimed they can achieve a Bachelor's degree along with their high school degree. If so, one or both has to be of low quality.

The Denver Post yesterday featured an article ('Finish High School With A Bachelor's Degree?')  concerning Florida Atlantic University High School, "which education officials believe is the nation’s only school where all students can simultaneously earn their high school diploma and bachelor’s degree. The National Association of Secondary School Principals knows of no similar program."

Frankly,  I don't either, and there's a good reason: it simply doesn't work the way the FAU brain trust think or believe it does.  According to the piece, and one must assume the authors in writing it don't have tongues in cheeks:

"About eight of each year’s graduating class of 130 accomplish the dual-degree feat and nearly 100 percent graduate college by 19, about the time most university students are learning their town’s best pizza joints. More than half enter graduate or professional school. Perhaps the best part — tuition and textbooks are free."

FREE!? Sounds too good to be true, something like a takeoff on Bernie Sanders' "Free College for All" theme. Generally,  when things sound too good to be true they are. What sounds (educationally) like the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel is,  to my perception, over inflated plus skipping over the numerous problems.

First, most dual enrollment courses are taught in high school classrooms by high school teachers who have received some training and certification by their university or community-college partner and follow its curriculum. But we're informed that by10th grade:  "the teens study mostly at the university — taking classes alongside students who might be a decade older — and receive dual high school and college credits."

Which makes one wonder about the quality of the courses and specifically the level being taught, if they are for credit,  for degree- enrolled students. My best guess is that all such courses which include these HS students are deliberately dumbed down,  merely audited or the grading curves are chucked. to give them a break. See e.g.

We then read:

"One recent day, the freshmen were completing work top-level juniors and seniors do at typical high schools, like in-depth looks at ancient empires and genetic studies of fruit flies"

Of course, there is no hint at about how "in depth" these "looks" were.  But for comparison, at top flight secondary schools in Barbados,  students would be expected to complete up to 20 hours per week outside of class time, in homework, labs and special projects. Add in 4 hours of class time for five (minimal) courses, and you have a total of  40 hours - and there are NO short cuts.

Now, let's take a typical university's (like Loyola or USF's) 16 credit course workload per semester to complete at least 132 credit hours for the B.A. degree. (Assuming it takes 4 years) We're talking about 16 hours class time per week plus at least 3 hours added time per each class contact hour - to earn at least a B in each course.  These extra three hours include projects, homework, labs or reports as well as study time to master the material. That makes a total college work week of 16 hrs. + 48 hrs. = 64 hrs.  

But we are asked to believe  an FAU HS student can possibly kill those two educational birds (college + HS) in two years.   ("100 percent graduate college by 19," )  Are these kids child prodigies like Joe Hall who entered college in North Carolina at age 9 in the 1970s? He took on advanced physics and differential equations courses like they were nothing so could reach college graduate level without even going to high school.

But these kids in Florida can't be prodigies like Hall because they are still doing high school work while also pursuing college work. So, they are perhaps gifted kids (not prodigies or geniuses) who still must submit to the workload and can't race through it with full comprehension like Joe Hall could. So let's examine the work burden on these "above average" kids in the context of finishing a college degree and a HS degree - by age 19.

That translates to not 40 but 80 hrs. of HS work fulfilled per week plus at least 128 hours of college work. We are talking about a total of 208 hours per week devoted to the fulfillment of the two degrees simultaneously and again, NO shortcuts. You are obliged to do the same volume of work, and quality, that students would at a private high school (like Miami's Mgsr. Pace High where I went) and a properly accredited university.

The problem, of course, is that there are only 24 hrs./ day x 7 days = 168 hours in a week.

Even stretching the time allowance to a full 4 years would be pushing it. In this case we are looking at 40 hrs. of HS work, plus 64 hrs. of college commitment for a total of 104 hours a week. Again, to properly complete the two degrees simultaneously.  This time allotment means the dual study students have 64 hours a week outside of scholarly activities to sleep, eat....or whatever. Assuming they need at least 8 hours a night for sleep - to keep those dual studying brains in fine fettle - that leaves them with 64 hrs. - 56 hrs. = 8 hrs. for all their meals or whatever rec time they can muster- including showers etc.

Sorry, but the numbers don't add up. Well, let me amend that: They don't unless major corners are cut  and that is exactly what I believe happens at FAU HS and why they succeed but few other universities are prepared to take the bait. I happen to know Loyola won't while USF does have a limited,  dual enrollment honors program but all students must fill out a non-degree seeking student application.

At least one academic paper has pointed out that the Florida Atlantic University High early college experience is not the same as dual enrollment. The difference is that in dual enrollment, the high school student belongs to a high school and takes college classes either on the high school campus or on a college/university campus. In this case the University High School is a de facto virtual high school with a legal designation and authority to award high school credits and diplomas. In return for giving up traditional high school courses and extracurricular activities, the students in this experiment, with a signed parental release letter, were “free” within limits to explore any and all aspects of university life.

In effect, the Denver Post article hasn't correctly presented the difference or the actual nature of the Florida Atlantic University High experience. The article leads the unwary reader to believe these HS students are actually graduating with college baccalaureate degrees, but they are not (See my numbers computations earlier to show why they aren't.) They are merely getting their feet wet, getting a taste of university life, especially time management. Those that have  graduated likely took the regular 4 years to do so, no 2 year short cuts (unless it was an Associate Degree a la community college standards) . In any case, I'd like to see their course transcripts to see exactly how many credit hours they took in all, and when these were completed with what grades.

Another interesting tidbit: Florida’s dual-enrollment legislation, passed in 2006, and expansively assured high schoolers they could attend classes at career centers, community colleges, or state universities, but then added language instructing school boards to offer dual-enrollment courses on high school campuses “whenever possible.”   That's a huge qualifier. In addition, evidently many students don’t apply to some Ivy League schools that they know won’t accept their credits. Why not?

The real bugbear is who pays for the classes. A few states split their per-pupil funding between the high school and college. A Michigan college that enrolls a high schooler for two courses, for example, gets $2,279 of the youngster’s $6,875 foundation allowance; the high school keeps the rest, Michigan advises schools, using an online  calculator to do the math. Other states lay the cost on the school district, college, or state board of education. In 22 states, it’s up to kids or their parents to pay for college courses.

Then there's the other side;  high schools aren’t always eager to see their brightest students opt out of AP classes for a dual-enrollment program. School ratings—and therefore, teacher bonuses—depend in part on how many AP classes they offer, how many kids enroll, and how well they score on the AP exam. Moreover, school district policies sometimes don’t allow youngsters to leave campus during the day.

According to  FAU Assistant Dean Joel Herbst who oversees the program, quoted in the Post:

I am kind of dumbfounded that (colleges) throughout the country don’t have a program similar to this. The seats in every college class are not full. The teacher is already teaching. What are one, two, three, four more kids in that class? These kids bring significant value to the university and the university brings a tremendous amount of value to our program and our kids,”

 First, most schools will not have their tenured, top flight research or Nobel -level profs teaching classes with these HS kids. That will be left mainly to assistant profs,  TAs and adjuncts, if any. The reasons are also clear: they do not believe they have the mental maturity to handle the intense course work or to negotiate the tremendous difference in difficulty level between HS and university.

Second, most profs I know would not be prepared to change their grading curves, or lessen exam quality or difficulty to cut these kids slack.  They also understand there'd be tremendous pressure to do this, as there already is from the ridiculous teacher evaluations. Can you say more grade inflation?

Third, in various specialty discipline areas - including space physics - the previously enrolled (for years) students would already have been deeply involved in ongoing projects, say to do with rockets to investigate the aurora at Poker Flat in Alaska.  HS kids suddenly joining such a group would throw a spanner into the works - force the prof to get them caught up and also ensure they are adequately  prepared to join the course. Would they be able to do the plasma physics required for such project/course engagement? Say to answer questions such as:

A proton moves in a uniform electric and magnetic field, with fields given by: E = 10 V/m (x^) and B = 0.0001 T (z^)where '^' denotes vector direction. (Take m m  = 8.5  x 10 -22  J/T)

a) Find the gyrofrequency and the gyro-radius

b) Find the proton's E X B drift speed

My guess is no.

The one sure way to determine if these kids, assuming any graduate from FAU, are really qualified to "move on to graduate or professional work" is to have them take the GRE.  Then, if they score at least in the 90th percentile, say in each of the quantitative, analytic and verbal sections, I'd say 'Sure, they've proven themselves'.

If not, then no. Go back and do that college B.A.  properly, at a pace where you actually master what you are supposed to.

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