The most striking thing we found is that the focus was not all on academic subject matter; the programs had a range of components, including experiential components so students would understand the kinds of social and personal behaviors they need to have to be succesful in college. Also, there would often be a remedial component for students who aren’t prepared, you don’t want to just put them in a college course and risk that they will fail; you want to provide them some kind of academic preparation so that they will be successful in those courses.
A few things: access to AP courses and college prep support otherwise is hardly universal across American high schools, and many observers (and students) have long recognized that AP prep, much like SAT prep, is largely a matter of privilege and affordability. Walt Whitman High School in Montgomery County, MD, for instance, offers 28 AP courses — in addition to 17 honors courses — across four grade levels. AP curricula at Walt Whitman HS include economics, psychology, Eastern languages, world history, and comparative politics — already that’s a first-year university liberal arts curriculum in high school.
I think it goes without saying that emulating college coursework likely makes for effective college prep, although the CCRC study clarifies the importance of academic support services (e.g. teaching college study habits) in preparing students for success in post-secondary education:
Site visits revealed that preparing students for college coursework, and college itself, begins long before students enroll in college-credit-bearing classes. …the data indicated that much of the “action” comes prior to capstone college courses. Students have opportunities to gain academic skills, feelings of success and motivation, and learn social and procedural skills at multiple points in their [credit-based transition program] experiences, and this learning may influence their future program experiences and ultimate program outcomes.
That said, what do Hughes and Karp’s findings mean for schools where college prep services, such as Advanced Placement coursework and International Baccalaureate programs, aren’t so available? The College Board charges $86 per AP exam, and its test prep material ain’t cheap either.
A commenter on Richards’ post linked the discussion in an interesting direction: since 2002, the Early College High Schools (ECHS) Initiative has been working to expand college prep courses and support services (pdf) to “those young people who are least likely to attend college and for whom society often has low aspirations for academic achievement.” They’re laboratory schools of sorts — 63% of them are public, 78% are start-ups, 60% are academically theme-based. The Council of State Governments stresses that:
The students accepted into early colleges are not always the most gifted students in the district. In fact, they seldom are. Most early college schools target populations that are underrepresented in higher education — those from low-income families, racial and ethnic minorities, and first-generation college students.
Unlike AP support services and IB programs, early college high schools promise college prep and college credit to students who are in effect pursuing their associate or bachelor’s degrees within a public K-12 framework — cost-effective, and pretty damn impressive. ECHS programs have been expanding over the past few years; by 2005, 71 early college high schools operated nationwide, and ECHS Initiative partners hope to have 89 more schools up and running by 2011.