Chapter 3
. C. High-Level Learning Opportunities In High School

As schools move toward increasing student achievement, and raising expectations in schools with low graduation rates and those with achievement and graduation gaps, many are embracing innovative strategies that previously have been open only to high-performing students or primarily pursued by students with little expectation of post-secondary education. Exciting developments involve collaboration between public education systems, higher education, business and industry.

        • AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) courses.
        • Dual enrollment.
        • Early college high schools.
        • Redesigned career technical courses and sequences.

AP and IB Courses: Increasing the diversity of the students taking these rigorous courses is an important strategy for narrowing achievement and graduation gaps. There is good evidence that the experience of high expectations in high school through AP courses better prepares students for college-level work, whether or not students score high enough on the final exams to gain college credit.

Dual Enrollment: Dual-enrollment allows high school seniors to take one or two courses at nearby colleges, usually two-year community colleges. A recent study of 33,000 Texas students found that dual enrollment students were twice as likely to enroll in a Texas two- or four-year college, twice as likely to return for a second year of college, and almost twice as likely to complete a college degree compared to those who had not participated in dual enrollment. These findings held true for all racial groups and income backgrounds. These findings were reinforced in a second study looking at a national sample of students from the National Educational Longitudinal Study.

Early College High Schools. Early college high schools are a new breed of schools that enable a student to earn a high school diploma and complete the first two years of college simultaneously. They ultimatelyreceive a high school diploma, transferable college credits and an associate’s degree in five years instead of six. In North Carolina, which has one-third of the nation’s early college high schools, and where early colleges are aimed at low-income, low-performing and minority students, early college high school students are more likely to graduate than their peers in traditional schools by a substantial margin.

Career Technical Education (CTE). For the last 20 years, traditional vocational education — historically the manual “track” into which the lowest-performing students were directed — has been revamped into high-skills, technically oriented sequences of courses and internships. More recently, there have been substantive efforts in many states to embed this work in innovative school designs, in collaboration with businesses and community colleges, that prepare non-academically oriented students with the thinking and technical skills for the 21st century workplace.

Deeper Look

North Carolina has invested heavily in early college high schools in a collaborative effort linking the state college and university system, the governor’s office, and the North Carolina New Schools Project. Read more about these schools at, and for an initial “gold standard” evaluation, see the report, A Better 9th grade: Early Results from an Experimental Study of the Early College High Schools, by the SERVE Center at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro,

For more general information about early college high schools, visit

To learn more about contemporary CTE, and the drive to include high- level thinking skills within technical education that is relevant to the workforce, from the California Linked Learning Project,

Also explore the Illinois Pathways Initiative, which works to increase collaboration between secondary and postsecondary education systems and the business community to help students graduate from high school and college with the skills required for 21st century jobs, at;  and Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan coalition of more than 200 organization supporting reforms to create high quality career and technical education- For examples of this work in progress, read the Georgia case study in Building a Grad Nation Annual Update 2012, and investigate IBM’s new Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools in New York and other cities.

Related Civic Marshall Plan Planks

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