Thursday, October 3, 2002

"White paper" concerning the Early College program (at IVC)

[Sorry about the highlighting, which was not included in the original. -R]
To IVC Faculty,
Requested Action:
I ask that the Early College Program be placed on the Academic Senate agenda as an action item.  I would like the Senate to consider the following actions:
1. Creation of an Academic Senate committee to do the following:
a. identify, discuss, and clarify faculty concerns about the EC program. 
b. identify components of the EC program for which decisions should rely primarily on faculty expertise, and components that require both faculty and administrative agreement.
c. interface with the administrative to insure proper design, planning and implementation of the EC program.
2. Authorize the design and completion of an anonymous survey of all faculty who have taught in the Early College program. 
Lest you get the wrong idea from the following discussion, I think the idea of an ‘Early College’ program has some educational merit.  However, I have serious reservations concerning its initiation and implementation.  My concerns group into four general areas. 

Concern #1:  Implementation of the EC curriculum.
I have serious concerns about potential violations of the contract and the academic rights and responsibility of the faculty.  
1. Who makes decisions regarding inclusion of freshman and sophomores?   Faculty used to be able to say yes or no, but this choice seems to have been eliminated somewhere along the way. Our on-campus students can enroll in our classes if they are over eighteen or possess a high school diploma or GED.  So we must admit them and assume they have the skills and maturity to succeed. Not all high school students are guaranteed admission.  So why are the high school administrators, rather than our faculty, choosing who gets into our classes?
2. The decision to include young students seems to be made without proper evaluation of their reading, writing, math and critical thinking skills and with apparent disregard for their emotional maturity.  What evaluations are being made before enrolling students?  And why are appropriate evaluations made by high schools and not IVC? 
3. The scheduling patterns created by administrators without agreement with faculty often forces alteration of course curriculum.  For example, our lab exercises are designed to teach data collection, analysis, and evaluation.  To accomplish these goals, which are part of the course outlines of record, labs are schedules for three hours.  Scheduling labs that are 1.5 or 2 hours, often forces alteration or elimination of critical components of an exercises, disrupts continuity of lab exercises, and defeats the purpose of the lab within the course.  This seems to be a serious academic issue that projects further than a simple scheduling issue.
4. In many instances, discussion/tutor periods have been added to an EC course to compensate for the enrollment of students who cannot do college work.  This represents a change to the curriculum when this additional obligation is dumped on the teaching faculty. 
5. In some instances, alb what is alb? enrollments have been as high as 36 students, a lab size that no sane college would attempt on the college campus.  Who decides the max enrollment and how is it decided?  Isn’t this a curriculum issue and isn’t max course size set by the curriculum?
6. Courses have apparently been offered to area high schools before discussion with faculty.  Who decides which courses are appropriate for younger students who may not have the academic training to succeed? 
7. The college has decided in some instances to hold spaces in our on-campus summer classes for students who do not pass the EC version of the course.  What makes an administrator think that a student who could not pass a semester-length course is capable of passing the same course when offered in a 6-week format?  This issue alone tells me the administrators who are involved in this know next to nothing about how to teach or how student learn. 
8. In many instances, underage children are enrolled in night sections where the instructor has no access to emergency or administrative personnel.   
9. Although administration touts the success of students in this program, it has done nothing to validate the equivalency of the EC versions of courses with the on-campus versions.  In fact, all the anecdotal evidence I have received implies that instructors are badgered into lower standards so these students can succeed. If that is indeed the case, we are teaching high school classes that are not worthy of college credit. 

Concern #2:  What are the steps being taken to evaluate the program? 
What are the short and long term goals of the program?  How are these being evaluated and who does the evaluation?  If we MUST continue with this program then a much better organization of the program needs to occur along with well thought out program SLO’s and rubrics.

Concern #3:  There is an apparent mismatch between academic expectations and academic preparation of the proposed high school student.

This became apparent when our department was asked to teach Bio 1 to the students at Beckman High School.  Approximately 33% of the class was not prepared for the course and needed to drop.  There was considerable pressure given to the IVC instructor by the high school administration to ‘do something’ to prevent these students from dropping the course. (i.e. hand out extra credit).  In spite of this concern, we were directed to offer Biology 1/1L at El Toro High School (and apparently other local high schools) for a student population consisting primarily, if not exclusively, of high school freshman and sophomores.  I enumerate the expectation-preparation mismatches below.

1. Reading skills of the proposed student population do not match the reading level of course materials.  
The most glaring mismatch is between the language skills required by the course and those possessed by the proposed student population.  The Bio 1 course text and exams require a reading level appropriate to college freshman (grade 12-14); and lectures are presented with language appropriate to the same student group.  (I had the reading level of the Biology 1 text and lab manual evaluated several years ago by Jan Horn.)  However, the proposed student population of high school freshman and sophomores in all likelihood does not read at or close to a college level.    Thus, the ‘Early College’ group will have more difficulty reading the text and following lab instructions than our present adult student population.

2.  Critical thinking skills of the proposed student population are not commensurate with course expectations.  
As written and taught, our biology courses require critical thinking skills commensurate with the cognitive abilities of adults.  Success in the lecture component of the course requires the ability to synthesize, analyze and evaluate a large body of evidence to support modern biological theories.  In addition, lab exercises are experimental in nature.  They require collection and analysis of data plus subsequent evaluation of data relative to accepted theory.  Yet there is considerable literature supporting the argument that adolescents do not achieve an adult cognitive skill level until 17-18 years of age.  Thus, our biology courses, if truly college-level, are outside the cognitive abilities of most high school freshman and sophomores, and are border-line accessible for high school juniors. 

3.  The general science background of the proposed student population does not match the course expectations.
Biology is a metascience.  It invokes principles of other sciences, e.g. mathematics, chemistry and physics, to synthesize, analyze, and evaluate biological concepts and theories.  As such, our college-level biology classes assume an appropriate level of high school training in general science.  Even though most of our present adult student population (>18 years of age) has had high school science, they struggle in our Bio1/1L course.   However, the proposed freshman-sophomore student population will attempt this college-level course as a first science course, with essentially no prior training in science.
4. Writing skills of the proposed student population are insufficient to meet course expectations. 

The curriculum for Biology 1/1L not only requires college-level writing assignments but the exams must be 25% essay format.  To achieve optimal success, a student taking this course should possess writing skills similar to those of entering college freshman.  About 2/3 of high school students tested at IVC must enroll in WR201.  These data strongly suggest that high school freshman and sophomores are somewhat less skilled at writing than our on-campus student population and therefore at an extreme disadvantage with regard to written assignments and essay portions of exams.

Concern #4:  There seems to be an apparent mismatch between the role of community college courses in higher education and their present use in the ‘Early College’ program. 

Biology courses at IVC are written to satisfy general education requirements at CSU and UC.  As such, they are written to parallel CSU and UC courses with similar content, level of detail, and expectations of student academic performance.  While some faculty view this approach as erudite and pompous, it is in fact an attempt to provide our students with the same education they would receive at any California institute of higher education.  And, it is an honest effort to do what we claim to do - teach college-level transfer courses that equate to those taught at any UC or CSU.
We offer many advantages to students who opt to complete lower-division coursework at IVC rather than at UC or CSU.  The most obvious advantage is cost.  But there are significant educational advantages as well.  Our class sizes are 10-20% of typical UC and CSU GE courses; and faculty contact and availability are much higher at IVC.  For students who did not enter CSU or UC because they lacked the necessary academic credentials, we offer an opportunity to build skills and raise grades.  If our curriculum and faculty prepare our students properly and require the same level of academic performance as any UC or CSU, the students should be academically on par with college juniors upon transfer. We accomplish the task because we raise student expectations and focus on improving their ability to synthesize, analyze and evaluate information; we don’t get students through lower-division coursework by ‘dumbing down’ our courses to match student ability. 

Our biology courses also play an important role within the IVC curriculum.  They of course provide for both GE and major preparation for transfer.  But equally as important, each course reiterates concepts taught in other courses. Students must read and interpret a college-level text; read, interpret and complete lab instructions; and read the discipline literature to some extent.  Students must provide written answers on quizzes and exams; and they do considerable writing in the form of lab reports or lab notebooks.  Students must use their math skills for collection and analysis of data, presentation of data in graphic and tabular form, and interpretation of data.  And every course is designed to enhance student critical thinking skills in line with both state criteria and general academic expectations.
What role does our curriculum play in the ‘Early College’ program? During the last 30 years, I have interacted with many a parent who demanded admission to our Biology 1/1L course for their 8th, 9th or 10th grade child.  Some of these were parents who wished their child to take my class; many others were seeking admittance to courses taught by other instructors (back when Chairs fulfilled the role of academic Deans).  After letting each parent explain to me why their child was intellectually up to the challenge, I asked a simple question: “Would you enroll your child in this class at UCI or at CSUF?”  Unequivocally and without hesitation or exception the answer was no.  When asked why, the universal answer was that their child would probably not succeed at UCI.

The apparent contradiction raises an interesting question that has bothered me for years.  Why would a parent, who does not think their child can succeed at either CSUF or UCI, think they could succeed if enrolled in a transfer-level course at IVC – a course that is supposed to be equivalent in every way to the same course at UCI or CSUF.  Although the EC program could be successful for a limited number of high school students, at present it seems to be configured and implemented to assuage the egos of over-zealous parents, and do who knows what for high school and IVC administrators, many of whom seem to have little comprehension of either teaching or learning.  This group of administrators expects professors of these courses to start with students who are just out of junior high school - with commensurate academic skills in reading, writing, math and critical thinking - and elevate them to college-level students by course’s end.  This of course is an impossible task. 


Anonymous said...

"...high school and IVC administrators, many of whom seem to have little comprehension of either teaching or learning."

Administrators are by and large mere bean counters who have long ago lost any comprehension of teaching and learning, if they ever had any to begin with. Decisions and initiatives are simply based on the latest fads and buzz words, and they tend to dismiss reasoned objections like those offered here to their latest hare-brained scheme as laziness, intransigence, or "unwillingness to change or cooperate" on the part of the faculty.

Thus it is up to the faculty to protect educational values, to restrain the administrative bulls in the academic china shop, which too often requires patiently laying out for them, as has been ably done here, the basic principles that should be obvious to them.

Anonymous said...

Chris raises substantive points - all of which I worried about when I first heard this program. But few want to hear these kind of concerns - they just want to shove the program down our throats - and if we resist we're seen as not playing along. We've drifted away from actual teaching and into some kind of version of shopping at CostCo. We're at the checkstand just adding it all up.

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