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An Introduction to Middle and Early College High Schools

Middle and early college high schools are typically located on community college campuses, which allow students to begin working toward an associate's degree while they complete the necessary coursework for a high school diploma, and they often, include a 13th year to allow students to complete their associate's degree. Both middle and early college high schools primarily serve underachieving students who are better served in a nontraditional high school setting. Many of these schools also focus on preparing students for the workplace and encourage students to use their postsecondary classes to gain a technical expertise.

Middle and early college high schools are unique configurations of high school grades and postsecondary education. Typically, these schools are located on community college campuses, which allow students to begin working toward an associate's degree while they complete the necessary coursework for a high school diploma, and they often, include a 13th year to allow students to complete their associate's degree. Both middle and early college high schools primarily serve underachieving students who are better served in a nontraditional high school setting. Many of these schools also focus on preparing students for the workplace and encourage students to use their postsecondary classes to gain a technical expertise.

Middle College High Schools

The first middle college high school was founded in 1974 by Janet Lieberman at LaGuardia Community College. This program was designed to create a learning environment on a college campus to provide disengaged high school students a fresh start in high school and an opportunity to participate in college-level classes with the hope that students will matriculate upon high school graduation. Middle college high schools do not necessarily require a 13th year, as early college high schools do. To date, there are approximately 30 middle college high schools in the United States, and they share the following characteristics:

  • Formal collaboration between the high school and the college that is demonstrated by location on a college campus; inclusion of the high school in the organizational structure of the college; integration of high school teachers and students into the college; sharing of educational resources; and coordination of college and high school schedules and calendars;
  • Authorization for the college to grant a high school diploma;
  • Small school size, but large enough to sustain its own unique classes and programs;
  • Heterogeneous grouping of students;
  • Implementation of collaborative, project-centered, interdisciplinary curricula;
  • Expanded teacher role in school governance;
  • Expectation that teachers provide counseling within a structured system of support for students;
  • Ongoing embedded professional development;
  • Student outcomes measured by multiple assessments including performance- based assessments;
  • Empowerment of students through formal leadership roles in school governance, in guidance programs such as peer counseling, and in academic support services such as peer tutoring;
  • Career education or community service as part of graduation requirement (http://www.laguardia.edu/mcnc/aboutus.htm).

Through the Middle College National Consortium, a support network for middle college high school, schools, both new and established, receive technical assistance and support as they implement educational reforms and engage in professional activities designed to help under-performing students meet high academic standards. Member schools participate in a Critical Friends Review every five years, and member principals and teachers are engaged in continuous support and technical assistance through Polilogue, the Consortium's online community.

In 2002, the Consortium launched its Early College High School Initiative Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. The Consortium's early college project redesigns existing middle college high schools into early college high schools and also supports the creation of new early college high schools.

Early College High Schools

Early college high schools are small schools from which all students graduate in either four or five years with an associate's degree or enough college credits to enter a four-year, baccalaureate program as a college junior. Their main difference from middle college high school is their focus on ensuring that all students receive both a high school diploma and associate's degree or equivalent transferable credits at graduation. Early college high schools more clearly distinguish high school courses from college courses, and early college high school students do not begin college-level coursework until their junior or senior year.

The ECHSI is targeted at increasing the number of first-generation, low-income, English language learners, and students of color attaining an associate's degree or two years of college credit and the opportunity to attain a bachelor's degree. Early college high schools share the characteristics of effective small schools, such as personalized learning environments, a common and coherent focus, a maximum enrollment of 400 students, and an emphasis on adult-student relationships. According to the ECHSI, the benefits of these schools are:

  • Higher education is more accessible, affordable, and attractive as the physical space between high school and college is removed;
  • Less time is wasted during a student's junior and senior years as they are able to begin to earn credits toward a postsecondary degree;
  • Appropriate guidance and support are provided as students transition from secondary to postsecondary education, a critical transition period where students often do not receive these services; and
  • ECHS are breeding grounds for innovation, creating new and better ways to serve the intellectual and developmental needs of young people by unifying and reconceptualizing academic work from ninth grade through the second year of college (http://www.earlycolleges.org/Overview.html).

Brown Lerner, J. and Brand, B. (2006). The College Ladder: Linking Secondary and Postsecondary Education for Success for All Students. Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum.

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