Wednesday, May 15

A New Perspective on ECHS Programs

One of the things I’ve been reading a lot about recently (thanks to my job) is Early College High School (ECHS) programs. I admit that until recently I wasn’t a fan. This is largely because the primary program model I’ve been working with accepts only “under-served” students, which means minorities, potential first-generation college goers, and kids from families that fall below the poverty line – usually because they are single parent families or on public assistance. 

I get tired of “under-served” population programming very quickly, because it frustrates me to watch parents work their butts off and sacrifice for years to keep their marriage strong, provide their kids the support and discipline they need to do well in school,  and to support their families through any jobs they can get only to find their kids disqualified from programs that could have been amazing opportunities for them while Joe Shmoe’s six kids by five “baby mamas” get handed supports and opportunities they don’t appreciate (paid for by taxes they didn’t pay into) left and right.

But reading Is College Worth It (reviewed in a recent post) changed my perspective. I had forgotten until reading it that Project Lead the Way is an ECHS program – just a different model than the one I’ve been dealing with lately. My brother participated in PLTW when he was in high school, and it was a fantastic thing. A STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) based program, it took any students with an interest and skills in technology and let them earn college credit while still in HS that would transfer to two key local colleges – one a community college (to complete an Associate’s degree) and one a national leader in Technology degrees. I was fascinated to learn that a large percentage of projected jobs in the next several decades will require more than a HS diploma but less than a Bachelor’s degree.

The upshot? ECHS programs are a perfect tool to meet the demands of the coming decades.

Imagine for a moment the impact on the US economy if every child had access to an ECHS program. Not everyone would participate, course. Academically strong students seeking futures as doctors, lawyers, astrophysicists, or anything else that requires an advanced degree would do fine in a normal HS environment (though the current system could use some overhauling). But students headed into business, technology, nursing or other fields that require only Associates degrees to start could graduate from HS ready for the workforce! Can you picture the scale of the impact it would have on our economy if, instead of starting their work careers at 22 or 23 with a boatload of debt, students started their careers at 18 or 19 unencumbered? If they were able to earn competitive wages, support themselves and their families, start saving for a house and investing in a retirement fund that many years earlier? How much further ahead would they be in life at 30, 40 and 50 if we could give them this opportunity?

And what about the rest of us? ECHS programs leverage the strengths and resources of High Schools and Community Colleges – both taxpayer funded already. Don’t you want more bang for your buck? Getting kids two degrees in the time it used to take to get them one? Colleges spend billions of dollars annually on remedial courses and related support programs, essentially repeating the material students should have gotten in HS. The sad truth is that these programs suck down the funding and spit out little in the way of return on investment.

If you’re a more touchy-feely personality, there’s a less economic side to this argument as well. It’s a well-documented fact that a large proportion of students leaving HS and enrolling in our nation’s community colleges are academically unprepared to be there; they just didn’t get the education they needed in HS. A shockingly high number of these students never complete their degrees. They get mired in remedial classes and suffocate in discouragement until they quit, or they just can’t hack the college curricula and flunk out, burdened by debt and no more equipped to land a stable, good-paying job than they were before.  When these students can be re-routed, plugged into a BOCES or ECHS program that focuses on their skills and doesn’t require them to struggle through pre-requisite courses they’re not equipped for (English Comp 101, anyone?) they become confident, independent members of society with great jobs and strong careers.

So I’ve changed my tune on ECHS programs – I’m a fan! But only when such a program is done right; every child should have the opportunity to access the educational path best suited to their gifts and goals. (More ranting on that in another post, I’m sure.) In the meantime, I look forward to seeing more ECHS models developed and implemented and hope that this wonderful opportunity won’t be lost through political machinations and credit-mongering.

Tuesday, May 14


Bonus points if you know why
this picture goes with this post.
It’s been a bit quiet around the blog as of late – for that I apologize. I blame the month of March. You see, we were patiently waiting out the cold gross winter that lingered and clung and refused to give way to anything resembling spring. We planned out house projects and told ourselves that we were saving up money for them and that it was fine that it was still too gross to dive in to any of them. But patience has never been my virtue, and by the middle of March it was wearing quite thin. So we comprised. We picked a *tiny* project – just replacing the clunky, dysfunctional closet doors in our bedroom with some nice bi-folds that would let in enough illumination to actually see what you were looking at when you opened them.  My handsome Prince also promised to build me some shoe cubbies on the side of my closet, which I was very happy about. Thus, on an innocuous Saturday morning, we headed to the Toy Store (aka Lowe’s). 

We came home with no closet doors but nine boxes of bamboo flooring, two gallons of paint, a giant box of flooring staples and a slab of sub-floor… we then proceeded to spend the rest of the weekend out the trim and (disgusting) carpet in our bedroom, cutting out and replacing a ruined section of the subfloor and taping the room for painting. We pretty much haven’t stopped moving since. Around work and my volunteer work at the museum, we’ve plowed from one project straight into the next.

  • New flooring laid in the bedroom, complimented by new paint  
  • Renting a ginormous dumpster (the second in a year) which we completely filled (again)
  • Ripping every last shred of the remaining (gross) carpet out of our house
  • Tearing down the mouse-skeleton infested insulation and water-damaged 2x4’s that lined the basement
  • Building & planting a raised-bed garden and two window boxes (have to keep the basil out of border collie reach or they snack on it!)
  • Chopping and stacking the first run of firewood for next year so it has time to season (including taking down several trees)
  • Cutting back the overgrown apple trees
  • Clearing brush that has entangled the edges of our yard like the thorny hedge surrounding Sleeping Beauty’s castle
On the side, of course, are the little things – trying to keep up with the mud our furry babies track through the house, keeping a menu written and meals made around skewed schedules, the first vegetable canning of the season. Oh, and sleep. We try to get a little sleep in here and there!
Somehow, amidst all our projects, the month of April evaporated and May is half gone. I’m not sure where it all went when I wasn’t looking, but a quick glance at this page tells me it didn’t go in to blogging! There’s been lots churning around my head as my hands were busy, though, and I hope to catch up at least a little on recording my thoughts here before June’s workload hits me over the head and I wake up again in August.

As a side note, Menu Idea Mondays are suspended for the summer. I do more canning than proper cooking in the summer, and menu planning largely goes out the window as I base meals on whatever came out of the garden or farmer’s market looking particularly spectacular. (Or, honestly, whatever I can throw together in ten minutes or less without turning on the oven as we work on and around the house until well past our usual meal times.) I’ll post recipes as time and opportunity allow, though, so keep an eye out!

Tuesday, May 7

Is College Worth It by William Bennett

Former US Secretary of Education Bill Bennett tackles a question that should be on the mind of every American as our economy struggles and battles over funding for education rage at all levels. In this well researched, well reasoned and unbiased book, Bennett gives students, parents, educators and policy-makers the unvarnished facts about the value and (often hidden) perils of pursuing a college education.

This book was a quick read, but I was very impressed; the author's perspective was unbiased and down-to-earth. He made equal, judicious and effective use of individual stories and statistics. Bennett provides clear and reasonable alternatives to the current broken system (including examples and praise for the pioneers already doing things right) and practical guidelines for parents, students and educators. There are great insights on how to get the most out of your college experience if you attend and equally valuable information on the best educational and career alternatives – because college isn't for everyone. Every family and every educator should have access to the truths in this book before students start high school – it could change the foundations of education.