Nearly $30 million in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be used to expand a national network of early college high schools (ECHS), intended to provide a fast track to college for underserved young people, the foundation announced Dec. 7. A sophisticated student information system will help administrators track the progress of the program, the Seattle-based foundation said.

A $7 million investment in Jobs for the Future (JFF), which leads the implementation of the network, will expand the technical assistance available for the network. JFF will implement a new student information system (SIS). Through this system, JFF will share data and best practices to track progress, and support the continuous improvement of early college high schools, with network grantees and other educational institutions through 2008.

The SIS will generate public reports on the impact of early college on student achievement. In addition, JFF will provide on-going support to early college high school network through workshops and on-line tools, including a grantee extranet and a web site where education leaders and policy makers can find the latest research, analysis, and resources on early college high school designs.

High schools, each working with a university or college, stress rigorous curricula in seeking to increase high-school graduation rates and college readiness for minority youth, according to the foundation. Students can earn a high school diploma and two years of college credit or an associate’s degree.

More than $22 million will support the creation of 42 new schools throughout the country through investments in Antioch University Seattle, the Middle College National Consortium, Portland Community College’s Gateway to College, Rochester Area Community Foundation, Georgia Department of Education and the University System of Georgia, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, and the National Council of La Raza.

Early college high schools are designed to increase high school graduation rates, as well as the number of underserved youth who achieve a post-secondary education. According to a 2003 study by the Manhattan Institute, one-third of all ninth graders will fail to graduate from high school and two-thirds of those who do graduate will leave unprepared for college success.

Just half of African-American and Latino youth earn their diploma in four years, and fewer than 20 percent of those who graduate are ready for college, the Gates Foundation said. That number is even lower for Native American youth, who have the lowest college completion rates in the country, the foundation reported; only 54 percent of Native American students graduate from high school and fewer than 3 percent of these graduates complete a four-year degree program.

“If we fail to prepare all of our young people for the 21st century economy, the economic and civic health of our nation will continue to be at risk,” said Tom Vander Ark, executive director of education for the Gates Foundation. “By investing in new early college high schools, we hope to prepare more of the students for college, work, and citizenship–especially underserved youth.”

A recent report by the American Diploma Project shows there is an increasing convergence between the skills needed to earn a family wage and those required to attend college, including algebra, statistics, strong oral and written communication skills, and research skills, the foundation said. Early college high schools, according to the foundation, are designed to equip students with the skills needed to successfully complete college-level work and meet the needs of today’s work world.

“This network is about school change,” said JFF CEO Marlene Seltzer. “It’s time to re-engineer our secondary schools. Millions of our teenage youth are being left behind every day, unprepared to study further or secure good jobs in our sink-or-swim economy. The good news is that we have school change strategies, including early college, that show real promise. Early college high schools respond to the needs of youth who would otherwise be left behind, engaging and motivating them with a strong college-preparatory curriculum that allows them to earn credits in college-level courses and prepares them for higher education.”

Early college high schools share the traits of all good schools, according to the Gates Foundation: personalized learning, academic rigor for all students, a common focus and close interpersonal relationships. Serving as an effective bridge between high school and college, these schools give students the personal attention and extra help they need to succeed in college-level courses.

As of this fall, the foundation reported, nearly 50 early college high schools have opened, educating more than 8,000 students in 19 states. By fall 2008, more than 170 early college high schools will exist throughout the country, ultimately serving more than 65,000 students.

These new investments in early college high schools build on the foundation’s existing efforts to improve the graduation and college-going rates, particularly among low-income and minority youth, by strengthening America’s high schools. This fall, nearly 250 new small high schools opened across the country. To date, the foundation has invested $806 million to support the creation of more than 2,000 high-quality schools in 41 states and the District of Columbia.

Here, from the Gates Foundation, is information on some of the key participating organizations and the levels of funding they received:

Jobs for the Future ($7 million) actively supports the belief that all young people should have a good-quality high school and postsecondary education, and that all adults should have the skills needed to hold jobs that pay enough to support a family. As a non-profit research, consulting and advocacy organization, JFF works to strengthen our society by creating educational and economic opportunity for those who need it most. (www.jff.org)

Antioch University Seattle ($6.1 million), which already coordinates eight early college high schools in Washington State, will create 10 new early colleges serving 3,100 students in California, Texas, New York, Alaska, North Carolina, Oregon, and possibly New Mexico beginning in fall 2006; three programs will begin the first year, followed by four new schools in 2007 and three more in 2008. These programs will serve federally recognized Native American tribes and urban districts with significant numbers of underserved Native American youth. This investment builds on a $3.3 million grant awarded in 2002. (www.antiochsea.edu)

KnowledgeWorks Foundation ($1.2 million) will expand the Ohio-focused ECHS network by adding two additional schools to the eight schools already in planning or implementation phases. The two schools will open by fall 2006 along with a rural site currently being planned and will continue serving low socioeconomic and underrepresented youth in postsecondary education. The ECHS programs are one part of a larger effort to improve statewide high school and postsecondary graduation rates along with the Ohio High School Transformation Initiative (OHSTI). (www.kwfdn.org)

Middle College National Consortium ($6 million), which already oversees 20 early college high schools, will create 10 new schools in California, Chicago, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Washington State by 2008 beginning in fall 2006. These new high schools, which will operate on a college campus, will serve approximately 5,000 low-income and underserved youth. The foundation and its partners previously invested in this model in 2002 with a $7.1 million grant. (www.lagcc.cuny.edu/mcnc/)

National Council of La Raza (NCLR) ($891,340), the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, will build on their existing network of 12 ECHS programs–supported in 2002 with a $6.6 million grant by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation–by developing and disseminating a school design model that demonstrates the ability of every Latino student to master a college-preparatory curriculum and complete two years of a rigorous college education by the time they graduate high school. By example, NCLR’s Early College High School Demonstration Project will lead the nation in ensuring that every Latino, English language learner, and immigrant student has the opportunity to gain a postsecondary degree. To date six schools of exemplary practice are operating and six more are emerging in nine states and the District of Columbia. (www.nclr.org)

Portland Community College’s Gateway to College ($5.4 million) will create nine new early college high schools by fall 2008 as a recovery initiative for out-of-school youth. These schools will emphasize clear pathways to college for students who previously dropped out of high school. This investment supplements a previous $4.8 million grant in support of this model. (www.pcc.edu)

Rochester Area Community Foundation and the Rochester City School District ($1 million) will create up to five early college high schools as part of a $5 million grant from the foundation to support comprehensive redesign of Rochester’s secondary schools which includes two small school multiplex sites and 7-9 Foundation Academies and 10-12 Commencement Academies within redesigned 7-12 schools. (www.rcsdk12.org

University System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Education ($2 million) will create six new ECHS programs in Atlanta and other Georgia communities beginning in the fall of 2005 with two schools and with four more to follow in fall 2006. As a partnership between the University System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Education, Early Colleges will “reclaim” higher education for African American, Hispanic, and other ethnic minorities by closing the achievement gap and providing students ages 14-20 with a “real” opportunity for college attainment. Georgia’s first graduating class will complete the ECHS program and receive an Associate’s degree or its equivalent in 2010. (www.georgiaearlycolleges.org)

Links:

Gates Foundation
http://www.gatesfoundation.org

Jobs for the Future
http://www.jobsforthefuture.com

Early College High School Network
http://www.earlycolleges.org