Credit Check

Kids rack up university credits right there in high school. And their districts and colleges ring up ample revenues in the process. But are the students really learning?

However, Kral and others point out that less than two years before, a May 1999 internal audit showed several deficiencies.

The school's own audit of the dual credit program, performed by internal audits director Ronnie Darden, found inadequate record-keeping in several areas.

According to the audit, the colleges within NHMCCD broke SACS credentialing criteria by not obtaining proper faculty transcripts. Other deficiencies included missing admissions forms, dual credit waivers issued for incorrect amounts, and bookkeeping errors that allowed students to re-enroll in the dual credit program even when they had a below-C average.

Also, in a major violation of the coordinating board rules, NHMCCD had not even executed operating agreements with all participating ISDs during the fall of 1998, but students were signing up for the courses anyway.

While the deficiencies were apparently corrected in time for the SACS review this spring, Kral and others still feel there could be more problems before the next SACS review in 2011. And if there are, they aren't sure how the faculty will become aware of them.

Even more than the audit problems, the critics don't think that high schools are the best place to begin teaching college classes. Kral, who taught in public high schools for ten years before coming to NHMCCD, thinks many students lack the necessary maturity. And she isn't the only one.

"It is simply not possible to teach a college course in the high school milieu," says Bud Frankenberger, special assistant to the president of the University of Texas-Pan American in the South Texas town of Edinburg.

Frankenberger thinks the idea is rife with problems. Also an English professor, Frankenberger works with the Texas Business and Education Coalition, a group with the goal of improving public policy for public schools.

"The coordinating board rules are written rather permissively; there's no quality control," he says. More than that, Frankenberger's small study of dual credit students at UT-Pan American shows cause for concern.

In a freshman class at Pan American, only 18 to 20 percent of students who had taken concurrent dual credit courses made a GPA of 3.0 or higher. And even though concurrent dual credit supporters argue that the program attracts the brightest, most self-motivated kids, one in four former concurrent credit students didn't make a 2.0.

"Concurrent dual credit is a low expectancy program; it is teaching towards the mean," says Frankenberger.

Frankenberger argues that shorter class time, lack of convenient access to college libraries and labs, and everyday high school interruptions like ringing bells and requests for hall passes create an environment very different from a college campus. And class discussions can be limited by student maturity level.

Tim Howard, a political science professor at North Harris since 1990, agrees.

Howard, who has taught high school students in college campus classes, thinks teaching college in high school is like "trying to teach a zebra to be a giraffe." He believes that topics like sodomy laws, public profanity issues and the debate over flag burning can be too controversial for the under-18 crowd.

For instance, Howard says he could never teach the famous 1971 Supreme Court case Cohen v. California in a high school environment because it involved a plaintiff who wore a jacket bearing the phrase "Fuck the draft."

"High school students like to giggle and play with each other," says Howard. "Even when you have an experienced college professor teaching high school kids, it's an iffy proposition at best." One of Howard's biggest concerns is that the high school instructors teaching dual credit aren't always experienced with college-level work.

Concerned about these courses, Howard asked some of his students currently enrolled at NHMCCD to write a short paragraph describing their experiences, if any, with concurrent dual credit. One student, Jennifer Wilson, e-mailed her thoughts to both Howard and the Houston Press.

"I don't even know where to begin," wrote Wilson, who took a microcomputer application course at Klein High School her junior year. "The class persists [sic] of typing letters, memos, graphs, etc. I feel that the level of the class was for high school level, and has no comparison to the college level….I honestly believe that the class was taught at a level just to get the high school students a passing grade."

Another student shared her thoughts about a Spanish course she had taken at Jersey Village High: "The class itself was alright [sic]. I got the chance to learn another language. I think I did not get anything from it because I don't remember anything from that class. The only reason I took this course is because I was able to get credit from it for college."

Howard also received a letter from one student who wrote about how much he had enjoyed "dool" credit.

Added to the anecdotal evidence is the time professor Davis attended a student ambassadors' dinner. Student ambassadors are chosen by NHMCCD to represent the institution at various functions. As each ambassador stood up to tell his or her story, Davis was shocked when one began to heap praises on concurrent dual credit.

"This is what her story was," remembers Davis: " 'When I was in high school, I got C's and D's until I took a concurrent dual credit course and I got a B.' " The student went on to say that the experience had taught her how "easy" college work can be, and that it had given her confidence to go to college.

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