“Alignment” is a key word used when addressing the important issue of seamless transitions in education systems. That alignment must occur among all stakeholders – secondary and postsecondary educators and administrators, business and industry, policymakers, etc. And it must occur in all that they do – through curriculum frameworks, policy and articulation through grade levels. At last week’s Spring Meeting, panelists shared their insight on what to keep in mind when moving forward to effectively align learner levels among education and training programs.
The heart of effective alignment rests with the individuals who come together in this work and it is a federal, state and local responsibility to both create opportunities to establish a framework that allows for this and to actively participate towards the common goal of effective alignment.
Betsy Brand, Executive Director of American Youth Policy Forum, urged us to not forget about structures that are already in place and are designed to link secondary and postsecondary. For example, dual credit opportunities (like dual enrollment, IB, credit transfer, etc.) exist, but there are several challenges that must be met to ensure that these programs align properly with others. Brand focused largely on the issue of dual credit:
- With dual enrollment, programs must be college level, not just college like. For the most part, we are finding that the necessary rigor is not there.
- Credits must be transferable across a broad spectrum of community colleges, state universities and colleges. This should include general credit transfer when students switch majors.
- Students must have equitable access to textbooks, transportation, etc., the particular factors that keep them from participating.
- Partnerships should be not only between high schools and postsecondary institutions, but also with business.
- A particular challenge dual enrollment faces is that there is no universal way to measure college rigor. Brand suggested the following questions to ask when determining the level of rigor of courses: what kind of instructor is there? Is it a high school teacher certified to teach the class or a college professor? Does the syllabus look the same for the dual enrolled course?
- One mistake made with dual enrollment courses: trying to teach one college course in the same amount of time at the high school level.
Brand noted that many of the challenges impacting the alignment of dual credit programs fall under the umbrella of state policy.
Providing another perspective, Johan Uvin, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education, touched on broader issues that should be addressed from the local to the national level. She addressed the challenges that exist, however noted that examples of successful strategies are sprinkled across the nation:
- The bar has been set high by international expectations. There are promising practices, however, that are meeting this challenge, including the Math in CTE initiative, California Linked Learning initiative and extended learning time.
- The transition between secondary and postsecondary is especially bumpy. There are many examples around the country, however, of both sectors collaborating to design curriculum together and map out dual enrollment and credit transfer.
- Curriculum must be responsive to changes and development in industry. In order to realistically prepare students for a career, we must use industry standards in assessments and include industry as part of initiatives. The standards and programs must be agile to reflect the changes occurring in industry and the economy.
- Postsecondary programs must keep in mind the different needs of students. Adults, for instance, demand different experiences and resources than their younger peers. Adults entering a postsecondary career technical program often do so because qualifications, over time, lose credibility and recognition. Many adults, however, are not ready for the “college experience” and cannot be in programs that are full time or designed for younger people at a different stage in their lives.