The Davidson Institute graciously sends me a round-up of headlines from gifted and education news every week or so. These stories are usually all over the map -- a profile of a contest winner here, a closure of a gifted program there, often a Jay Mathews column -- but this week there seemed to be a ton of pieces on early or dual enrollment.
The basic idea is that sometimes course work is offered at the high school level or college level that isn't offered at the level below it, and sometimes students are ready for more advanced work in certain subjects, while still desiring a similar-aged peer group. Especially if educational institutions are near each other (a middle school is across the street from a high school; a community college is around the corner from both), why not allow students to take classes at any institution they want?
In Colorado, students can enroll simultaneously in community college and high school classes. The number of students taking college classes, according to this article in the Denver Post, has risen to 6,473 in 2010 from 1,750 five years ago.
Meanwhile in Chicago, according to a brief write-up in the Chicago Tribune, officials are moving toward a gifted middle school program that would enroll 7th graders, and allow them early admission to Lane Tech High School, one of the city's top public schools.
Over in Michigan, another article from ABC local news talks about a Carrollton program which partners with Delta College to allow students to enroll simultaneously in both. Students can graduate in four years with both a high school diploma and an associate's degree. If that's where you want to stop, you already have a credential for job hunting. If you wish to go on to a 4-year college, you can save lots of cash by having the first two years paid for.
Indeed, there are now so many dual enrollment programs in operation that the National Consortium of Early College Programs, which takes a slightly different tack, met last fall to "provide clarity of the traditional mission and purpose of early college." These programs, like Mary Baldwin's Program for the Exceptionally Gifted and Simon's Rock College, have students leave or skip high school completely to enroll in a 4-year college program.
I think all these programs have their places. The community college dual enrollment programs are sometimes aimed at helping at-risk students develop career interests but they can work perfectly fine for gifted high school or middle school students who want more enrichment and advanced course work too. And then some students are prepared to sail over high school, and so traditional early college programs are a great option for them. All of these are great options. And broadly, they help the public and the educational establishment see that just because you are 13-14 years old doesn't mean you have to be in 8th grade, learning a set group of things that only 8th graders are supposed to learn. Better to use all a community's resources.