Early College High Schools, which allow students to earn an associate degree in addition to a diploma while in high school, are rapidly expanding and evolving to offer broad exposure to college-level coursework, and in some cases, career training. Currently, as part of the Early College High School Initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, more than 280 early college campuses have proliferated over 31 states and the District of Columbia, giving at least 80,000 students the opportunity to acquire free college credits. And this number does not account for early college high schools not funded by the initiative. While early college high schools are typically praised as a way to expand educational opportunity—particularly for underrepresented students—they also present a new way to recruit and attract a next generation of teachers.
Early college high school teaching academies are being developed and adopted by districts around the country. Seen as a way to expose students to the teaching profession, these teaching academies are also viewed as a way to build the pipeline of qualified teachers to fill local vacancies in a way that also reflects the school’s student population.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, the University of North Carolina’s Cato College of Education and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system have teamed up to create the Charlotte Teacher Early College High School. The high school is housed on the UNC college campus and welcomed its first group of 55 ninth graders in 2017. The aspiring educators spend their first two years completing high school requirements and the subsequent three years taking general education college requirements and observing and supporting district classrooms. Graduating students will acquire up to 60 college credits that can be transferred to the Cato College of Education to earn teaching degrees.
At Travis Early College High School in Austin, Texas, students have the opportunity to earn an associate degree or up to 60 credit hours towards a bachelor’s degree while in high school. One of the programs available to students is the Texas Association of Future Educators, which gives students the opportunity to explore the teaching profession and earn a paraprofessional certificate. Students in the program take courses on practices of education, early childhood education, and instructional practices. During their sophomore year of high school, students begin going off campus to gain experience supporting classrooms in local schools.
New Dorp High School in New York City houses “smaller learning communities” that include the Future Teachers Academy which enrolls 350 students that are interested in the teaching profession. Students enrolled in the teaching track take electives such as foundations in education and teaching methodology, and their senior year, students enroll in an internship as teaching assistants with local schools.
Research on early college high schools has demonstrated positive outcomes for students. Compared to their peers, for example, students enrolled in early college high schools have a higher chance at graduating high school and enrolling in college. And at a time when tuition costs are on the rise, early college high schools provide students with opportunities to spend less time—and money—earning a postsecondary credential. And in the case of these early college teaching academies, students are encouraged to pursue a career in teaching at a time when teacher shortages top the list of concerns for many states and districts.
But as more states begin to develop early college high schools that specialize in teacher training, policymakers and practitioners must ensure that program graduates are receiving high-quality instruction in these programs, as well as adequate exposure and experience working in a classroom setting, so that they leave high school well-prepared for their next step, whether it be going directly into a classroom as a paraprofessional or continuing their postsecondary education to receive a full teaching credential.