There’s a lot of energy and conversation in education circles about the power of early learning—from head start to advanced early childhood development programs. In short, I’m a fan. However, what I’m talking about here is opening the doors to early learning options for students further along the path. As we continue to break through the boundaries of time-based learning – argued for so well by Terry O’Banion back in the Learning College for the21st Century days – we have to continue to push the boundaries all along the K-20 pathway. One particular boundary to push is bringing even more early learning later.
Clearly competency-based programs like Western GovernorsUniversity, Southern New Hampshire’s College for America, or the emerging programs such as the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s initiative with South Texas College and Texas A&M Commerce, are going to make acceleration more common. By allowing students to advance based on learning-competency achievement as opposed to 16-week-calendar advancement, they’re helping earlier learning take shape. More integrated and accelerated programs in developmental/college readiness programs like MathMyWay at Foothill-De Anza College District or the soon-to-be “largest math emporium in the galaxy,” as Austin Community College president Richard Rhodes calls it, are using early learning to bring more students into their purposeful education pathways sooner by helping them engage learning on demand, show what they know, and then go on to the next learning challenge. But there are still too few of these options.
But the story of Alexander Gilman, a 15-year old from AZ, struck me this morning. At 15 he is graduating with multiple associates degrees thanks to the early college programs in place through the Maricopa Community Colleges and is now poised to enter Arizona State University’s honor’s college as a junior! As you read the story you realize that we have to do more to help bring early learning to those ready for it. The Early College High School movement has been around for some time now and is taking clearer shape across the country. The folks at Educate Texas have been a key catalyst for these here in Texas – and have helped bring together the insight from rolling out over 100 of these schools over the last decade. But, again, there are still too few of these options.
What we’ve learned from the competency-based, accelerated developmental education, and ECHS work is that there are thousands, if not millions, of young people ready to be challenged to learn earlier. There are thousands, if not millions, of returning adults that are seriously delayed or derailed on higher education pathways because of course-based, calendar-tied curricular paths. They too are ready to learn sooner. Early learning matters to both of these cohorts—and more--and we need to do even more to make it more common.
Of course there are lots of questions and key issues to consider. How do we effectively identify the students ready for early learning options? How do we tune and time their learning journey’s to make sure the moments that require more capstone experiences and reflection are met? How do we balance these efforts with or weave them into the necessary efforts to help students who are falling behind or completely off their educational path? How do we fund these models with secondary and postsecondary funding formulas and financial aid models? What is the best facilities and technology mix to make it happen?
No easy answers to these, but there is exciting early learning happening on these fronts as well. From the emerging Competency-BasedEducation Network to continuing work of Educate Texas, there are a growing number of voices in the chorus asking how we bring more early learning later!