New report praises Minnesota families, students, educators

Nathan on EducationCongratulations to thousands of Minnesotans: families, students and public school educators. A new report, “Progress and Possibilities” shows major increases in the number of students who are taking challenging college level courses while still in high school. This helps them, their families and taxpayers.

The report examined enrollment trends in advanced placement (AP), concurrent enrollment, international baccalaureate (IB), Project Lead the Way and post secondary enrollment options (PSEO). Whether students are considering enrolling in a one-, two- or four-year program after high school, these are great options.

The report praises educators and families because many of them are encouraging students to take these challenging classes. Growing numbers of young people wisely are enrolling in “dual credit” courses.

Research shows participation in dual credit courses offers important benefits to high school students. This includes saving money by earning free, or almost free college credits while still in high school. It also includes reducing the likelihood of taking remedial courses in reading, writing or math on entering any form of post-high school education. Since taxpayers help pay for remedial courses, reducing the number that are needed will save us money, too.

In Minnesota, between school years 2005-2006 and 2010-11:

1. The high school population decreased by 5 percent, from 281,484 to 267,844;

2. The number of high school students of color increased by 12 percent;

3. The number of high school students from low-income families increased by 17 percent;

4. Overall participation increased in three of the four major dual credit programs. It increased in AP (62 percent), IB (76 percent), and concurrent enrollment (20 percent), and decreased slightly in PSEO (4 percent);

5. The number of students of color increased for all programs at a faster rate than it did for the overall high school population, except PSEO: AP (53 percent), IB (136 percent), PSEO (6 percent), and concurrent enrollment (52 percent between FY 2008 and FY 2010); and

6. The number of low-income students more than doubled in AP and IB over the five-year period, with increases of 137 percent in AP and 154 percent in IB. Low-income student enrollment rose more moderately in concurrent enrollment and PSEO, with increases of 40 percent and 10 percent, respectively;

The report includes several recommendations to make even better use of these opportunities. First, colleges and universities should be allowed to use a “truth in marketing approach.” While schools are allowed and often do promote dual credit courses by explaining that they can allow students to save money, current legislation prohibits higher education from doing this. We suggest removing this restriction.

Second, since ninth and 10th graders may take AP and concurrent enrollment courses, we suggest, allowing these students to take PSEO courses on a limited basis (i.e., starting with one, to see if they are ready). We also suggest, again on a limited basis, allowing students who don’t meet “class rank” requirements for PSEO to try one course, to see if they are ready.

Kelsey Austin-King, a Macalester student, and CSC staff Paj Ntaub Lee, Joan Arbisi Little and I wrote the report. Minnesota Department of Education staff provided terrific help in gathering data. But the CSC is responsible for the analysis, conclusions and recommendations, which can be found on our Web site: www.centerforschoolchange.org.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions are welcome via e-mail at jnathan@macalester.edu.

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