College Affordability = Dual Credit

Today I spent time at a great Prichard Committee event here in Kentucky focused on College Affordability. There were a variety of speakers sharing a variety of data points. It was very good stuff. Really professional. The best part, even, was that the Student Voice Team released their new report (which you should read ... proud does not begin to capture it). Great day. 

But, let me summarize.

  • State support for higher education is flat to negative. Indefinitely.
  • College tuition and, particularly, housing costs are going up. Indefinitely. 
  • Pell grants help poor families a lot. Kentucky state support helps too, but less. 
  • Lots of kids don't think college is for them & don't go. Cost is an increasing concern. 
  • Lots of kids who do start, don't finish.
  • Rather few kids finish community college. 
  • Some, especially those that don't finish, default on loans and ruin their credit.
  • High schools are not doing enough to advise, especially because of the lack of guidance counselors. 
  • And, inequity is still rampant throughout. 

Let me also summarize the number of serious plans articulated to address this in structural ways ... nada. 

That's not an indictment of anyone. Everyone honestly is well meaning in this space and I enjoyed all the conversations today. But, we seem locked into a pattern here and nothing I heard today (outside of seriously listening to students more which policy folks seem to applaud but not really grasp) seemed to have a real chance at changing the pattern. Some folks I spoke with today, including critical folks with state agencies, even seemed resigned to this unchanging reality including the indefinite inequity.  

Enter dual credit (or dual enrollment, or early college, middle college, etc.). It came up a couple times today but mostly just in passing. That missed the mark, unfortunately. 

In my work innovating in education the past 10 years, few things seem to have the screaming potential that dual credit does ... and few things are harder to actually implement, let alone change. I spent 3 years trying to build a dual credit program at STEAM and it is still not that great. But, it is the key. I'm convinced of that now more than ever before. We need to get serious about implementing large scale models across Kentucky and resetting our expectations around the space between high school and college (i.e. there should very little). 

Jobs for the Future has a summary of the research

The What Works Clearinghouse also recently took a look and concluded ... it works (image at left). 

REL Appalachia even did a serious study of Kentucky dual credit last year. Some of their findings: 

  1. Dual credit programs are an important feature of college readiness efforts.
  2. Program implementation and costs vary wildly. 
  3. Key challenges include
    1. limited availability of high school teachers with appropriate credentials,
    2. limited access to courses and instructors in isolated rural districts,
    3. limited student readiness for college coursework,
    4. financial burden for students and families,
    5. inconsistent standards for ensuring course quality, and
    6. lack of dedicated staff to manage dual credit programs.

This should have been discussed today in more detail. We need serious attention here, especially with the Kentucky Secretary of Education announcing last week that he wants all students to do a dual credit experience while in high school. Kudos to Hal for having a broad vision here. That's the kind of vision we will need to reset the status quo ... followed up with a great deal of leadership to make the vision a reality. 


Ultimately, if we are serious about resetting the status quo we could just make the Associates Degree the end point for high school (rather than, or in addition to, the high school diploma). At first blush it sounds crazy, but it is less crazy than you think. Both the money and the time required for this are largely already within the P-12 model. If we made it a P-13 model, we could get a majority of kids to the Associates. A lot would have to change to make it happen, but mostly it is changing norms rather than markets, laws, or architectures. In short, if we wanted to do that for Kentucky kids, we could reasonably achieve it within a moderately short period of time. Certainly, the kindergartners of today could be in a P-13 system that gets them an Associates if we wanted to do that. Even if we missed the full target here, we would still get lots more kids to College and more would finish. I do not see the downside to trying.  

If we just keep having the same discussion we had today simply acknowledging the patterns, however, those kindergarteners tomorrow will face the same (or worse) situation than our college entrants today. Thus, if we are discussing making college seriously affordable and changing the current patterns, we necessarily must be discussing dual credit programs.

New Books from Friends

I am happy to recommend all of these. (all the images are clickable to Amazon). 

Leading Personalized & Digital Learning

From our friends at the Friday Institute at North Carolina State published by Harvard Education Press. 

Different Schools for a Different World

Our old buddy Scott McLeod and the respected Dean Shareski team up under the Solution Tree banner for the first time. 

Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning

Our Wisconsin school innovation partner Jim Rickabaugh has put out this roadmap from lessons learned there with ASCD. 

Schooling Outside the Lines - book launch

Tonight, we as the EDL 662 Course are launching a book! Yeah, for real!! 

The book is called Schooling Outside the Lines. The links to download and read are below.  



PDF (cleanest version)

ePub (for reading on tablets) 

Google Docs: 


This book emerged from our EDL 662 investigations into teaching and learning in the digital, global world. Along the way, students wrote blog posts on a variety of topics that helped us question what we are doing in schools and how we can improve these learning systems. The 5 chapters in the book address: 1) Meaning of the Diploma, 2) Technology, 3) Culture, 4) Assessment, and 5) Growth Mindset. I wrote the opening and closing, but the rest is their work. 

Next, we picked chapters and assigned pairs of students to curate and edit each chapter. Thus, everyone had a part not only in writing the book, but in bringing it together. We also assigned additional roles like building the index, the cover art, marketing, etc. It was certainly a group effort. 

Students used various blog platforms to do the initial writing and sharing. We read and discussed those in our LMS, Canvas. Once we picked a direction for the book ... we used Google Docs to bring it all together into a single place as students made their curation decisions. Students then engaged in about 2 weeks of curation and editing. We had a pair of managing editors, Kyle Curry and Bailey Ubellacker, who kept everyone on track and managed the whole process. They did great ... thanks to them! 

Once we had a full edited copy ... it was time for exporting. Google Docs allows exports to both PDF and ePub. I used Calibre to do a reformat, though, between the PDF and the final ePub. Then, I used that ePub file for upload into the iBooks store. We will also publish a paper version, just for ourselves, through Lulu. 

reminding myself that all lives matter

I am at UCEA in Detroit ... and I'm getting a wonderful reminder that: 


Kudos to the thoughts of outgoing UCEA president Mónica Byrne-Jiménez. Her analogy of the lotus which blooms beautifully but is only possible because of the mud was compelling. Our work will not always be clean, but it is the hard work in the mud amongst leaders that makes the beautiful possible for kids.

I love UCEA in particular and working with my academic colleagues in general because I get to be reminded and get to recommit to our communities ... everyone in our communities. While working at STEAM and at UK, I get to work closely with schools daily to recode learning systems to privilege all learners. But, fighting for social justice is not the same as understanding the lives, hopes, fears, and passions of my neighbors who are not white midwesterners like myself. It is a superb reminder that while I love the fight and want to take action everyday to improve learning systems ... there is massive value in just listening and learning. Perhaps now more than ever. The expensive education and entry credentials that has put me in a position to recode systems is not an opportunity available to many of my fellow Americans ... but their lives matter, and their ideas matter, just as much or more than mine. 

So, it is a good reminder to all of us, perhaps, to be intentional about listening. To actively seek out situations that make us a bit uncomfortable, whatever your background, in connecting with the lives that matter. We can't let our own fear keep us from the conversations that really matter. 

A good place to start ... is in the tweets emerging from the conference on the hashtag #UCEA16 ... and connect with these folks. Start a dialog. These are all passionate people about making lives better for all of us and they really want to connect with you also. 

10x can be easier than 10% ... seriously

Make no mistake what I am personally going for at STEAM ... I want a 10 times better high school experience for kids, not just a 10% better high school experience. Most of the innovation I see in schools are people looking for a 10% better solution. They are mostly trying to maximize the efficiency out of existing models. There is nothing wrong with that at all. That is extremely valuable work, but it can also be draining as we try to squeeze more and more out of a model designed for a different time. 

I really love this article from Google X's thinkers (and passed along by Scott McLeod) on how it can actually be easier to go for 10x than 10%.

Because when you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about. Such incremental progress is driven by extra effort, extra money, and extra resources. It’s tempting to feel improving things this way means we’re being good soldiers, with the grit and perseverance to continue where others may have failed — but most of the time we find ourselves stuck in the same old slog.

I very much agree with this notion and my experience over the last 4 years developing STEAM confirms for me that not only are 10x opportunities possible within public schools, we can deliver them.

Take for instance the number of hours spent in internships in high school within Lexington. Last semester our kids (around 200) spent over 15,000 hours collectively. Pick any other random 200 high school kids in Lexington and they would be lucky to have 1,500. In fact, our small high school achieves more internship hours while in school than the rest of the city's public high schools combined. Honestly, it was actually easier to rethink our assumptions around when and how kids can leave the building than for a traditional public school to try to squeeze another 10% internship hours. At STEAM, we are going for similar 10x gains in dual credit courses, 10x fall in discipline rates, 10x project based learning opportunities. We are not actively trying to get those 10x gains, but when you are willing to get to the level of questioning assumptions and first principles ... those kinds of gains are possible. 

The key is in the assumptions. Every model (including our new one) is based on core assumptions. It is in those assumptions that opportunity truly lies because the assumptions that worked 20 years ago or 100 years ago do not necessarily work today. Many of them may still work, but some will not. Yet, those outdated assumptions are locked into the models we operate in schools. Once you start to see the assumptions (which I call the "code") they are absolutely everywhere. We make assumptions about how teachers spend time, what makes them qualified, how they should grade, how they should teach. We make assumptions about structures from the size of a classroom to the timing of the schedule. And, of course, we make assumptions about kids. Those can be the most infuriating. If you really want to know where the achievement gap lives, it is not in the mind of the child (which is equally, beautifully intelligent) it is in the assumptions of the adults.  

Getting beyond the assumptions requires a different kind of thinking ... one that does not come as naturally to us. No company in the world more clearly exhibits this trait right now than those of Elon Musk (Tesla and Spacex, we have a 10x better electric car, a 10x better battery, 10x better solar panels, and 10x better rockets). The key to getting those world-changing technological solutions time and again is that the people working in those companies reason from first principles, not from analogy. Elon (not the best speaker, be patient with him) explains below. 

Interview by Kevin Rose The benefit of "first principles" thinking? It allows you to innovate in clear leaps, rather than building small improvements onto something that already exists. 

When you apply this same reasoning to schooling ... finding and achieving 10x solutions is actually not that hard. Of course, it takes lots of time and communication and hours and hours of modeling, testing, adjusting, remodeling, etc. ... but if you stick with it at some point you look back and realize that you've achieved something for kids in your context that has never been achieved before. Not even close. Your are not 10% better for the learners than it was before, you are approaching 10x better. It can be done and much more easily than people realize.

Now, a 10x solution is not the same things as a "magic bullet" and it is also still making incremental improvements overall ... but we will leave those connections for another day. 

More segregated today ...

Whenever I tell students or, really, anyone that our schools are more segregated today than during the Civil Rights era, they are always shocked. But, that is our reality. We need to own that and, more importantly, we need to overcome the fear that underlies this challenge.

Now, I'm exceedingly proud to say that STEAM Academy is a core part of the solution for Fayette County Public Schools and Lexington, Kentucky. Students of all races are doing pretty well at STEAM but most importantly we embrace a culture that values, instead of fearing, diversity. Kids understand that peers that are different than them (on many aspects) actually make their own lives better and richer too. That kids from all backgrounds are talented and skilled and have something to offer our CommonWealth. We are not perfect, nor are we particularly close to it. But, we are trying to honestly work for the betterment of all kids on the assumption that when everyone has chances at success we are ultimately all more successful together. Also, for those in Kentucky, you should take some pride in the fact Jefferson County Public Schools has done their best to keep the school desegregated as the video shows and this article praises.

Moving forward, we need to be more honest with ourselves as a city, a state, and a nation ... and that starts with being honest with ourselves as parents. We make lots of choices for our kiddos in what we believe to be their best interest. But, those choices are structured within our own world-views. Thus, if we view the world outside our bubble as something to be feared, then our kids' lives will driven by fear ... and that same fear will set in within them, in various forms. But, most alarmingly, we are structurally limiting our children's understanding of the world as a whole. That lack of understanding of the bigger picture is a massive roadblock to their future success in a global, connected world. Thus, at the core, all we as parents really need to do is shift our mental model from fearing things outside our bubble to exploring and embracing them. That subtle shift is the remedy. A parent doesn't need to embrace every single aspect of our society, but start with exploration instead of fear and then decide.

Second, we have to understand, embrace, and come to terms with the fact that our school systems are designed to perpetuate the status quo. Deep in the design of the technology of schooling (largely designed around 100 years ago) are assumptions and mechanisms that separate and ultimately reinforce our fears. Few in these systems have ill intentions, but we all in these systems contribute to the continuance of systemic segregation. In Kentucky, the gaps between learners at kindergarten actually widen at graduation (proud to be part of the Prichard Committee work to highlight this). In a majority poverty state like Kentucky, chances are if you start from poverty you will be stuck in poverty. School is less a solution than a reinforcer. Thus, schooling presently is generally not the great leveler that equalizes as we hope, but rather the systemic hardening of the mold cast when a child is born. The promise embedded in a child on the first day of school is frequently all but eliminated on their last. 

As educators, we must combat the notion that helping one child is holding back another. That we must "track" kids based on their compliance. That a school willing to tackle learning deficiencies is a "bad" school. That a child acting out is behaviorally disordered and must be pushed aside. And, a thousand other notions and choices that live and are perpetuated within the code of schooling. I love spending time (and getting paid) changing that code, but it is something that will take many of us working on together over years to recode. STEAM is a start, as are many other models, but to go further will take even more courage and collaboration. 

While this might feel daunting, keep in mind that two generations ago, our grandparents as a people (willing or not) took real and legitimate steps to make us a less segregated society. They reset our norms, passed new laws, and built new structures. We can do the same. That was a hard time filled with hard conversations, lots of public outrage, and, critically, bold leadership. I think we can get back being a bold people moving toward justice, but it starts with being more honest with ourselves and being more honest about our systems. We have to stop pretending that we are better than our ancestors and, like them, just get to work making this a better world.

NESA Links - #UKNextGen in Doha

This week I was excited to take our #UKNextGen work international for the first time in Doha at the NESA Conference. I presented two workshops with Laurie Henry and we had a lovely time. I think we opened some eyes and made some great connections. Below are the links to our working documents. Most stuff is in the agendas, but the slide decks are there also. 

Workshop 1: Next Generation Leaders

Detailed Agenda: 


Workshop 2: Next Generation Teaching and Learning

Detailed Agenda: