Gates grant could provide new type of school in Alaska

Juneau group hopes such schools could reduce Native dropouts

Posted: Thursday, December 09, 2004

A grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will allow Antioch University Seattle to explore establishing Native-oriented high schools in Alaska that include college courses.

A group of Juneau residents talked this summer about starting a charter school of that type, although it might begin only as a middle school. They hope to reduce the dropout rate of Alaska Natives and increase the number of students who attend and complete college.

"It would really get Native students focused on student achievement," said Andy Hope, one of the organizers of Native education forums this summer. 'It would really increase the retention rate."

Nationwide only 3 percent of Native Americans have a four-year college degree, compared to 34 percent of whites, the Gates Foundation said.

Antioch has worked with Native tribes and community colleges in Washington state to establish eight such schools, called early college high schools. Some of them teach Native languages or use tribal members as co-teachers of classes.

Given that about a quarter of Alaska residents are Native, "we are most certainly interested in establishing an early college in that state," said Linda Campbell, Antioch's early college high school program director. She spoke at a press teleconference Tuesday from Seattle.

The Gates Foundation announced $29.6 million in grants to eight organizations to expand the early college high school network to at least 25 states.

The schools generally serve minority and low-income students. Students earn associate's degrees, or a similar number of college credits, at the same time they receive their high school diploma.

The idea is that low-achieving students need challenges, not just remediation, in small schools with plenty of adult support.

The schools seek to bridge the divide between high school and college for students who generally don't think of themselves as college material.

"This country's failing to prepare an entire generation of kids for the new century," Tom Vander Ark, executive director of education at the Gates Foundation, said Tuesday.

As of this fall, nearly 50 early college high schools have opened, educating 8,000 students in 19 states, the foundation said. Many opened this year. Only four began as long ago as 2002, so there isnt much of a track record.

By fall 2008, the foundation hopes, 170 early college high schools will exist throughout the country, serving 65,000 students.

Jeremiah Torres, a student at Middle College Charter High School at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, N.Y., said at first he thought the school would be too hard. But Torres said Tuesday he did better taking high school and college courses at the same time. He now has 40 credits toward an associates degree and would like to study biochemistry in college.

The schools are designed so students complete their courses in four years, but it could take longer. In some cases, college professors teach in the high school. In other cases, high school students take college courses on campus.

About two-thirds of the existing early college high schools are public schools, and another 30 percent are charter schools, which also may be publicly funded.

A study of the cost of running early colleges said they cost more than regular high schools and revenues have been a problem. The pilot study of six schools budgets showed gaps of 4.5 percent to 12 percent between revenues and expenses.

School districts and colleges often have been at odds about who pays for the college courses, said Michael Webb, in a study released last month by Jobs for the Future, a Boston, Mass.-based nonprofit that holds grants to study early college high schools.

Since 2001, the early college high school network has received about $124 million in support from the Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, WK Kellogg Foundation, Woodruff Foundation and Ford Foundation.

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