Virtual School Meanderings

July 13, 2009

Online Learning & Dual Credit: A Case Of “I Don’t Want To Grow Up”?

inacolThis was posted to one of the iNACOL forums and I thought that some of my readers might like to comment.

On Tuesday, June 30, I heard Ron Packard (CEO and founder of K12) at a gathering offsite from NECC 2009 in Washington DC predict that the combination of the needs of the changes in our service-based economy and the rise of truly individualized education through technology and changes in teacher’s approach to education will result in a compression of “normal” high school from 4 to 3 years and “normal” baccalaureate degrees from 4-5 years to 3 years.

He said some students are already being allowed to accelerate and graduate by ages 12-15. What I found fascinating about his prediction is not so much the prediction about high school education norm dropping from 4 to 3 years and his comment that “the lines between high school education and a college education” will become very blurred in the coming years.”

My education career is more rooted in higher education (although I teach in K-12 and higher ed), and I have long thought that, if possible, high education should largely be responsible for reforming high school education so that more high school students would graduate from high school strongly prepared to CONTINUE their college education.

What do readers think about Packard’s prediction of 1) the “shrinking” of the normative years to complete high school and a bachelor’s degrees and that 2) high school and college education will become highly blended?

clipperThe notion of dual credit courses is not new be any stretch of the imagine.  One that I am somewhat familiar with is the Clipper Project at Lehigh University (and the main reason I know about that is because one of my dissertation co-chairs, Tom Reeves, was an external evaluator on the project – and I’ve tried to find this evaluation report online as it used to be available, but even the Internet Archive is a no go for it now).  This is an example of an online program where high school seniors can take university courses for university credit.  Note for an interesting piece of research done on the Clipper Project, take a look at this Educause Quarterly article.

In thinking about this notion, I recognize the value in accelerating high school and making these kinds of learning opportunities available to our better students.  My concern is the blurring of the lines between high school and university.  Let’s face us, based upon the only generational difference that we can reliably and validly determine, our undergraduate students in university act more and more like high school adolescents all of the time.  Does the blurring of the lines between high school and university further make the transition from adolescent to adulthood an even muddier stage of life where our twenty-somethings become the new adolescents that have to be cared for like the snowflakes they are because they refuse to grow up and make the jump to adulthood.

I mean the undergraduate degree is the new high school diploma (as evidenced by research projects like Declining by Degrees and Ivory Tower Blues).  And it isn’t because the economy has such a demand for so many more well educated, highly skilled people than it did a decade or two ago (and even if it did, the undergraduate degree isn’t going to provide that because universities have had to dumb down so much of what they do because of the snowflake effect and the grade inflation – did you really think it was because there are so many great students these days?).

So, while I do appreciate the need for these kinds of dual credit programs for the truly gifted students, I wonder if the value of these programs (online or face-to-face) have been lost because of the other factors that have served to make a university educated person today about as educated as a high school graduate from twenty years ago?

Anyway, that’s my rant for the week…  What do yo think about the use of online education as a way to compress high school and university education?  How about the blurring of the lines between high school and university?


  1. Michael, I think your blog could include another developmental dimension in addition to 1) academic and 2) social-emotional maturity — 3) moral development.

    I agree, at least in part, with you that adolescence socially created in industrial societies has expanded in post-industrial societies (yet keep our analysis on the United States and Canada). Consequently, whereas the indicators of adulthood (ability to support oneself financially, commit oneself to a marriage, be responsible enough to raise children, and commit to the social good of one’s community) were in the 18-22 year old range in industrial societies, in our post-industrial society, those adulthood indicators are appearing significantly later — 22-26 year old range. Along with adolescence starting younger and lasting longer, I think there has also been a delay and decline in moral development.

    However, I disagree with you about academic achievement. I think today’s high school graduates know more than graduates from 20 years ago, 40 years ago, and 60 years ago. 20-30 years ago it was more common for students to graduate from high school functionally illiterate. Social promotion was normative then in many places. Our current accountability systems (moving toward national standards in the USA) have lowered the percentage of students being socially promoted and raised the academic standards of students earning a high school diploma or earning a GED (revised in 2002). I have certainly heard my colleagues in higher education talk about how students today are not as academically proficient as those 30-50 years ago. My response to them is that these are, most of the time, first generation college students. Their parents graduated from high school (without the college preparation classes) and did not go to college in the 1960s, 1970s, or early 1980s. If their parents’ generation had attended college, then professors decades ago would have complained about all the freshmen entering college unprepared to do college level work.

    However, it is only the 21st century that we have started equating a high school diploma with preparation to succeed in college. Only now are we thinking/acting that students who graduate from high school should be able to successfully continue their education at a technical college or a liberal arts college. The gap between high school and college will become, I think, more like the gap between undergraduate and graduate studies. Colleges will, in the near future, define 8-20 education (or a future equivalent). Technical-Vocational colleges will define a vocational track in secondary schooling, whereas our colleges and universities will define the other college track that fulfills the needs of the service sector in the economy. Nearly every high school student after 2012 will be on a college-bound high school diploma track, but many will go to technical colleges (where online education is expanding also) as well as liberal arts colleges.

    Will these 18-22 year olds be more “grown up?” Maybe not. However, we might be experiencing a new, more expansive definition of adulthood — where a person can not marry (or otherwise be in a longterm relationship), can choose to not have children (it will even be okay to express a distaste for parenthood), can be a “selfish” consumer of goods and services, yet go to college and become employed and still be a “grown-up adult.” This is Post-Industrial Society 2.0.

    All the above has little to do with online education, and as a cultural conservative I find the social trends disheartening, but it what I see as a social scientist in regard to 1) education as an institution and in 2) normative social-emotional-moral development of people.

    Comment by Samuel Lewis — July 20, 2009 @ 4:13 pm | Reply

  2. Samuel, I’m not sure I agree with a number of your assertions. For example, you wrote:

    I think today’s high school graduates know more than graduates from 20 years ago, 40 years ago, and 60 years ago. 20-30 years ago it was more common for students to graduate from high school functionally illiterate. Social promotion was normative then in many places.

    I disagree that it was normal for high school graduates from 20-30 years ago to be functionally illiterate, in fact I would argue that the national and state standards movements have only served to dumb down curriculum and that the statement is more applicable today than in years gone by. It is not uncommon for states to simply drop standards that students don’t test well on. This leads to the dumbing down of standards to improve test scores (which in turn dumbs down students). The knowledge that students were expected to possess as freshman in college today is much less than it was 20 years ago, at least according to the widespread analysis conducted by research initiatives like those reported in Declining by Degrees (i.e., in the United States) and Ivory Tower Blues (i.e., in Canada). Those studies indicate that because students are less prepared, both in terms of hard knowledge and in terms of soft skills, undergraduate programs are having to further dumb down there curriculum. Their conclusions are that students with an undergraduate education today possess about the small knowledge and skills as high school graduates of the past. Having read their research (and looking at the changes in the K-12 curriculum from when I was a student, only sixteen years ago, and today), I can’t disagree with their findings.

    And social promotion is still quite a common practice throughout much of the United States, and has only been a recent introduction in many jurisdictions. Basically, in the past 20 years – or with this generation of students – cause heaven forbid we hold back one of these snowflakes and damage their self-esteem. This notion of protecting students self-esteem begins with this generation of students. Depending on which generational difference label you choose to apply, most have this generation of students being born somewhere around 1980 – so you are looking at policies that have been enacted post-1985 (which is when the first of today’s students would have began kindergarten). I started school in 1980 and graduated in 1993. Social promotion was not a policy when I was an elementary school student. I can’t speak for most US jurisdictions, but it began to gain popularity in the 1990s in Canada (which would lead me to believe it was similar in the United States too – and the Declining by Degrees and Ivory Tower Blues work alludes to this).

    Even standardized measures in the United States are getting easier because students can’t handle it. The best example of this, in my opinion, is the Advanced Placement program. When I took AP as a student a 3 on the exam was good enough to get you college credit just about anywhere, even when I first started teaching in 1998-99 this was still the case. Today, most universities requires a 4, some require a 5 and some don’t even accept AP anymore because they don’t believe that the content and the expectations on the exam represent an introductory level college course. This was one of the things that led to the AP audit that the College Board has undertaken, but as an exam reader for the past four years I can say that I believe the expectations have gone down and it is easier to get a 3 on the exam now.

    Based on the research that I have seen, it requires less work and less knowledge to get through the K-12 system today than it did in the past. This means that colleges and universities have had to adjust their undergraduate programs to accommodate a growing number of students who simply aren’t prepared for what is expected. These adjustments in some instances have taken the form of foundation courses and additional institutional supports, but as universities compete for students and their tuition funding they have also lowered their expectations so students can do less work, learn less and still get an undergraduate education.

    I often read policy items and opinion pieces that talk about the lack of competitiveness of North America compared to other jurisdictions and how our graduates (be them high school or college/university) are unable to compete in this global economy, at least when measured against Asian nations (and to a lesser extent European countries too). And the folks writing this always present arguments that are similar to what can be found in the 1983 A Nation At Risk report (e.g., I’ve just started to read Liberating Learning and minus all of the references to technology you’d swear I was reading A Nation At Risk).

    The problem is that the causes outlined in A Nation At Risk and these kinds of writings aren’t the real causes of the problems we face. Its what I have described above. We can’t fix this problem by dumbing down the curriculum to only include standards that most people can achieve based upon discrete piece of knowledge that can be boiled down to a multiple-choice question. We can’t expect less and less of students and still move them through the system – K-12 or higher education – as we have been doing for the past 20 years. We can’t treat each of these snowflakes like they are precious gems that no one can do anything that might upset, challenge, or harm them in any way. If the school system that educates them does something to displease them (or their parents), we’ll just move them around until everyone is happy because we have school choice. These countries that we are trying to catch up with, trying to compete with, does their education system resemble this?

    There are many problems with the education today that, as you indicate, stray considerable from online learning. And there is no silver bullet answer that will fix these ills. I don’t for a second believe that if we increased the rigour in the curriculum, got rid of or severely curbed the use of standardized testing, and lowered the expectation that every students should go to college that things would immediately get better. Although in all honesty I think all three measures would help improve the situation.

    Having said that, I do believe that there are some things we shouldn’t be doing. The first is thinking about education in the same way we think about business. This notion of the student as customer is flawed and has only led to an education system that works best for those who have the most purchasing power (like any other business model). The second is the idea that the system should be set-up so that every student must be able to succeed. I firmly believe that every student should should have the opportunity to reach their potential. But every student’s potential isn’t necessarily the completed of an undergraduate degree or even the completion of high school. Should the measure of a K-12 education be set only as high as the lowest ability K-12 student? I don’t think so, and I find it interesting that so many Americans hold this view.

    The notion that we really should “leave no child behind” when it comes to a K-12 education is almost the opposite belief that Americans have with everything else. If you applied this believe to health care, Americans would expect to have access to whatever doctor or hospital they wanted, and to have the government pick up the tab regardless of your economic or social status. It really is the same as expecting to be able to enroll you student in a private school and have the government pick up the tab (i.e., school vouchers) or to be able to shop around for what you perceive as the best school for your child (i.e., school choice) or to be able to go to schools that have a specific focus or mission (i.e., charter schools). If we applied the conservative’s or right’s beliefs about education to health care you’d have a nationalized system of health insurance in the United States, but a free market health care system.

    I know I’m straying from the topic here, but when you look these issues through a different lens it often illustrates the problematic nature of many of these approaches. And the reason why the United States is not making up any ground in its struggle to improve its educational standing among other nations.

    Comment by mkbnl — July 20, 2009 @ 5:36 pm | Reply

  3. […] 229 a day (with the busiest day being 13 July – which was the day I posted an entry entitled Online Learning & Dual Credit: A Case Of “I Don’t Want To Grow Up”?).  This was the highest monthly hit count I have had (followed by June at 6833 and April at 6827 […]

    Pingback by Statistics for July 2009 « Virtual High School Meanderings — July 31, 2009 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

  4. […] generational labels – and this one of millennials in paricularly (and if you don’t see Online Learning & Dual Credit: A Case Of “I Don’t Want To Grow Up”?), but I wanted to pass this on anyway.  Maybe someone will attend and be a sh$t disturber on my […]

    Pingback by FREE Webinar – Find Out How To Teach Millennials « Virtual High School Meanderings — January 8, 2010 @ 3:10 pm | Reply

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