|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Wednesday, December 8, 2004
New York Times 12-8-04
Gates Foundation Adding to a School Project
In an effort to improve high school graduation rates and encourage more low-income students to finish college, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will spend an additional $30 million to create hybrid high schools in which students spend significant time in college classes, the foundation announced yesterday.
The grants will create 42 such schools, known as early-college high schools, which will serve about 17,000 students around the nation, the foundation said. The schools, most situated on college campuses, will place their students directly in college classes for much of their academic careers, so that upon graduation they will have earned either an associate's degree or as much as two years' college credits toward a bachelor's degree.
"Most kids in high school are not taking a full or challenging course load," said Tom Vander Ark, the foundation's education director. "They're bored and don't think anybody cares about them. That's the root problem that we're trying to deal with."
The foundation earlier committed more than $80 million to create hybrid schools, but only in the last couple of years. So while it says its support is based on research suggesting academic and motivational benefits in putting high school students in a large number of college classes, it acknowledges that it is too early to know how well the approach works.
As with many of its education efforts, the foundation says it is taking an educated leap of faith. Marie Groark, a foundation spokeswoman, said: "We're not trying to incrementally improve graduation rates. We're trying to reinvent the system to dramatically improve graduation rates. And that requires some risk-taking."
The high schools will be built in several states, including New York, and focus on low-income minority children. The theory is that if students start taking college-level courses as early as ninth grade, they will gather enough credits to be halfway through college by the time they graduate from high school. That in itself will give them more of an incentive to finish high school and go on to college, the theory goes, and, since fewer years of tuition will be required, will also overcome some of the financial barriers to higher education.
The approach should also help students complete college, says the foundation, noting that at least one study it commissioned found that two-thirds of high school graduates were essentially unprepared for undergraduate work.
But even if students choose not to go on to college, the foundation says, they will either have earned an associate degree or have much better academic skills because of the hybrid schools, and both factors will help them make more money in the workplace.
Cece Cunningham, director of the Middle College National Consortium, which will receive $6 million from the foundation, acknowledged that there had long been high schools on college campuses. What makes the hybrid schools different from these so-called middle colleges, Dr. Cunningham said, is the degree to which the student's curriculum is tied to college work. Rather than taking college classes as they become available, she said, many students in hybrid schools will spend nearly as much time in college courses as in high school courses.
"This is the interlocking of the high school and the college experience," Dr. Cunningham said. "We're not skipping anything. We're giving them a taste of college successfully so they're more likely to continue and finish."
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