The following column originally was published by ECM Publications.
Progress and problems with PSEO
A new statewide study of 87 Minnesota district and charter websites shows real, commendable progress. The research shows dramatic increases in the number of schools that are providing “up-to-date information” for Postsecondary Enrollment Options, as required by state law. However, the study also identified several problem areas. The study was completed by the Center for School Change, where I work.
We found disturbing results last summer when our staff examined more than 120 websites to see if schools were providing accurate information about PSEO. We went back this month to see if there were improvements in four key areas, from August 2015 to March 2016:
•Tenth grade PSEO option. Inclusion of this fact grew from 15 percent in August 2015 to 91 percent in 2016.
•Opportunity to take PSEO courses on inclusion increased from one percent in 2015 to 90 percent in 2016.
•Recognition that PSEO tuition, required fees and books are free to participating students. This grew from one percent in 2015 to 90 percent in 2016
•Availability of transportation funds to help students from low-income families get to a college for PSEO courses. This increased from 21 percent in 2015 to 90 percent in 2016.
Although we did not re-check this, it’s important for families to know they have until May 30 to notify their high school if a student is participating in PSEO for the 2016-17 school year. Less than 10 percent of websites we reviewed had this information in August 2015.
Here’s what we found on some district and charter websites:
Caledonia has created a webpage that provides all the required, up-to-date material. That’s found at http://cps.k12.mn.us/page/2799.
Forest Lake Area High School Principal Steve Massey wrote that the school has an evening information session to discuss dual credit with families. “Then we meet with every student by visiting every classroom during a 2 week window during the same time frame.” The school has developed an area on its website in which many different dual-credit options are reviewed. Forest Lake Area Schools has PSEO information available at http://bit.ly/1TgdAMr.
Cam Stottler of North Lakes Academy wrote, “We have a meeting during spring conferences that covers all of our dual-credit options, deadlines, and philosophies.” This year that meeting was on March 3. The school has a search function on its website that brings people to the PSEO page. North Lakes Academy information is available at http://bit.ly/1TgeicL.
Holdingford, Little Falls, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, Pierz, Royalton, Swanville and Upsala have created web pages that provide all the required, up-to-date PSEO material. The Little Falls information is found at http://bit.ly/1VRfCDE. Long Prairie’s information is at http://bit.ly/1V0aXyd. The Pierz information is at http://bit.ly/1ZI6IIx. The Royalton information is at http://bit.ly/1Uz9II3. The Upsala information is on the left side of the high school home page, found here: http://bit.ly/1UrlmnX. Holdingford PSEO information is at http://bit.ly/1pHi2bj.
CSC staff hope that districts will make it easier for families and students to find website information about PSEO. Fifty-five percent of 87 websites we studied did not have a search function that brought users to PSEO information. We encourage districts and charters to do this, though it’s not required by state law.
Progress resulted in part because of Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Fred Nolan, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, and Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter schools. Commissioner Cassellius responded to the 2015 report by reminding school administrators last summer and again early this year about PSEO information requirements. Nolan, Amoroso and Piccolo encouraged educators to carry out the mandate, which some had not heard about before last summer’s report.
The report also summarizes the growing research showing the value of PSEO and other dual-credit courses for all kinds of students. Participating students are much more likely to enter, but also graduate from a one-, two- or four-year higher education program. That’s in part because dual credit saves families thousands of dollars, and partially because high school students develop strong skills and more confidence by earning college credits.
The report identified another kind of information that we hope will be shared with families. Many people have written to me, asking for information about how open colleges are to accepting various forms of dual credit. That might be PSEO courses taught on a college campus or via the Internet, or courses taught in high school, like Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or College in the Schools.
We contacted public two- and four-year colleges, as well as private four-year colleges, and found significant differences in acceptance policies. For example, the public colleges and universities will accept up to two years of credit from PSEO, CIS, and depending on the end of class test scores, AP and IB. Acceptance at private colleges varies. Hamline University will accept up to two years, while Macalester and St. Olaf will accept less than a year’s worth.
There’s no single place to learn what acceptance policies are. CSC suggests that the Minnesota Legislature direct the Minnesota Office of Higher Education to gather and share this information. A bill has been introduced at the Legislature to do this.
The PSEO law requires schools to distribute information about PSEO to students in grades 8-11 and their parents. The CSC may ask schools next year to share PSEO information they give to families. We also may examine an issue some families have contacted us about: schools that discourage PSEO participation by giving extra “weight” in grade point averages to dual-credit courses taken in high schools, but not to PSEO courses.
Authors of the report include Russell Pekala, a Minnesota high school graduate who took two years of PSEO courses and is now at Harvard, Malik Bush and John Miller, CSC’s co-directors, and yours truly. It’s available on our website at www.centerforschoolchange.org.
While more information is needed, it’s important to acknowledge the progress made since August. Thanks to Cassellius, Amoroso, Noland and Piccolo, and to the district and charter educators who made information more available.
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at email@example.com.