Room 228 in Cougar Village @ College of Alameda

Prologue: On 12 March 2010, I went to The College of Alameda to take an exam to be a Census enumerator……I found out about this part time job possibility while attending The White Elephant Sale in Oakland to support the Oakland Musuem.

Friday was rainy and definitely not a day out for play so I had hoped to show up, take the exam and leave.  Although I arrived about 1/2 hour early since I was unfamiliar with the campus, I had plenty to entertain me.

There were a variety of students getting ready to go into room 228. I have no idea what subject was being taught, whether it was a class which would transfer to a CSU or UC or even who the professor might have been – all I can explain is the students I saw entering the classroom next to where my exam was going to take place and how this group of students was disconcerting.

There appeared to be two students who wanted to attend the class and were there with an attitude of learning. One appeared, quite possibly from his demeanor, to be a returned military person.  The other student appeared genuinely interested in attending class and was cordial.  The entire rest of the class appeared to be a group of students who may/may not have made it through high school and were making up work which had bested them in a previous academic setting. 

The overall tone of the students from the larger group was discouraging and made me feel terrible for the professor. It seemed that whatever was going on in room 228 was not very important to the students except for the two I mentioned. Students were arriving late, talking on cell phones entering the room, discussing not turning in assignments on the way to class and hoping to not get caught. Not all of these ‘students’ were the typical 17-25 age group – some appeared older.  It amazed me the level of disdain for even obtaining an advanced education, whatever it might be. The students looked as though a class on Friday morning at 10:00 AM was an afterthought to some more serious activity to occur after or had occurred previously.

This view of students at this  community college made me think about how charter schools are now marketing their programs so students can take ‘early college’ classes. Even though a class takes place on a college campus or with a professor at a charter school, does not in fact make it college level (transferable to regular college/university). 

 I had seen a number of college professors from Peralta Community College District attempting to teach college level courses at the charter school where I worked  and noticed the dawning of reality when they saw that they were not actually able to teach at the collegiate level since the students were neither behaviorally nor cognitively able to participate at the level of expected freshman college performance. It was a horse and pony show and done for the benefit of some one far more adept at showmanship than myself.

I began to wonder if indeed my cynicism was leaking through or if Friday was just a bleary day so I contacted a friend of mine from graduate school who is a professor at one of the CUNY schools and described my observation. What I found out was that I was not having a bleary Friday, I was seeing the reality of community colleges, tasked with trying to close the gap from high school to an actual college and being stuck in an awkward position – how to get students college ready when they barely made it through high school already and had little interest in truly pursuing an advanced education.  My friend explained how the game was merely to pass the students through, the best they could and hope somehow, for a few students, it made a difference.

This led me to then question why we have not seen the stats of students going from charter schools to college and completing college. Could it be the idea of merely misleading ourselves to believe a program with a new name and marketing gimmick was indeed different? Where is the proof? The little, weak evidence I have is not an indictment of the early college initiative, rather, it is a look at what happens when we rename something and do not actually alter the ingredients. 

I do not have the quote exactly right. I believe it is something to the effect of, “It is still a pig even if it is wearing lipstick”.

Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation

At Woodrow Wilson, early college high school is all about opening doors to Bachelor’s degrees for kids from underserved communities. From top liberal arts colleges, to historically black colleges and universities, to leading research universities, our higher ed partners—many drawn from the prestigious national network that Woodrow Wilson has built over the past 60 years—are actively engaging their faculty in these early colleges. And the local schools we work with make an energetic school-wide commitment to innovation, from curriculum, to teacher development, to administration. But what’s most exciting is that the students in these early colleges are learning to see a four-year degree not just as a dream but as a real possibility—in fact, a goal.”—Rob Baird, Vice President for School-University Partnerships

Since 1945, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation has stood for excellence in education, promoting both individual opportunities and institutional partnerships that lead to college access for new populations. Over the past 20 years, Woodrow Wilson has also joined its legacy of excellence in higher education with a commitment to meeting national needs in K-12 education. The Woodrow Wilson Early College High School Initiative, begun in 2003 and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has supported small high schools nationwide that provide first-generation college-goers with rigorous academic preparation to enroll—and succeed—in college.

The foundation partners public schools with their local colleges and universities, exploring innovative ways to ensure access to quality education for all students. Woodrow Wilson’s early college high schools—including sites at Stanford, University of California campuses at Berkeley and Davis, City University of New York’s Hunter and Brooklyn Colleges, the University of the District of Columbia, and a range of other respected colleges and universities—emphasize rigor for students, ongoing professional development for teachers, and rich scholarly engagement for the university faculty involved. These programs are also becoming important sites of teacher education, complementing the teacher education programs of Woodrow Wilson’s higher education partners.

Graduates of these early colleges, some of them with up to 60 hours of college credit, are winning a range of college scholarships at respected institutions, such as Grinnell College, Lafayette College, and Bucknell University. Students at all of the Woodrow Wilson early college high schools are successfully completing college courses and are on their way to entering four-year colleges with advanced standing.

Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy
California College Preparatory Academy (CAL Prep) 
East Palo Alto High School
Friendship Collegiate Academy
Langston Hughes Academy
Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy
Manhattan/Hunter Science High School
Science, Technology and Research (STAR) Early College High School
Southwest Early College
University High School of Science and Engineering
Wallis Annenberg High School
West Sacramento Early College Prep