September 1 of 2017 was the deadline for Kansas high school instructors of academic college credit courses to have a masters degree and 18 graduate credit hours in the subject being taught.

High schools offer those “dual-credit” courses in cooperation with a nearby higher education institution. Those universities, community colleges and technical colleges are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. And the HLC set September 1, 2017 as a deadline for instructors of college credit courses to have a degree higher than the course level being taught. However, many high school instructors lacked those credentials. The Kansas Governor and the heads of the K-NEA, State Department of Education and Board of Regents requested more time for schools to meet this requirement.

The HLC responded by allowing: “...the opportunity for institutions with dual credit programs to seek an extension of the deadline from September 2017 to September 2024 as to faculty teaching in the dual credit program only.” However, each higher education partner had to individually apply to the HLC to request this extension to further train high school instructors of college credit courses. Otherwise the Sept. 1, 2017, deadline ended college credit for that high school course.

Eight community colleges, tech schools and universities did not apply for an extension. That means that all high school courses accepted by them for college credit should now have been taught by a teacher with a masters degree with 18 graduate credit hours in the subject.

For those higher education institutions that received an extension, their under-qualified high school teachers of college credit courses should be making progress toward reaching those credentials.

It has been a year since these “regulations” have been in effect. What is the situation in Kansas high school classrooms? Having sent over 260 biology teachers into Kansas classrooms, I have plenty of sources of information from the field. But with Kansas being a rare state where teachers do not have tenure protection, I must be careful to not reveal sources.

The number of high school dual credit courses in Kansas should have gone down under these regulations; but they appear to have gone up substantially!

In some high schools where the higher education school did not request an extension, all dual credit courses should have been taught by masters-with-18 teachers. But there are multiple cases where teachers without these credentials are continuing to teach dual credit college courses under the assumption that they were somehow “grandfathered in.” There is no such HLC provision. These courses are being given college credit in violation of HLC criteria.

In high schools partnering with a higher ed institution that did seek and receive an extension, those teachers without the masters-with-18 credential should be working toward achieving that masters degree. But in many cases the teachers are merely teaching another year with no further educational effort being made, recognizing that the college credit for their high school course will end in 2024. This fails to meet the letter and the intent of the HLC “extension.”  

But these violations of HLC standards may never see the light of day. Neither the State Department of Education nor the Board of Regents has any inspectors who go into the field to check credentials. Simply, if you have a law but no enforcement, you have no law.

I want to make it clear that there are some excellent high school teachers who offer a rigorous course that may very well deserve college credit. And there are some institutions, such as Johnson County Community College, that rigorously oversee the credentials and professional development of the high school teachers for which they accept course credit. But far more do not.

In this last year, the Kansas Legislature moved to enable all Kansas high school students to take dual credit coursework without asking if there were enough qualified high school teachers to support that effort. What was originally intended decades ago as a rare opportunity for a few exceptional students to move ahead, has now become an expectation of all students, regardless of their ability. With no minimal requirements established — the poorest performing high school student can enroll in dual credit at taxpayer expense. Every student is a Doogie Howser!

It has become common to hear that “the college degree has become the new high school diploma.” Formerly that meant that getting a job would now require more education. But it is now coming to mean that the college degree may equal no more than a high school diploma in academic achievement.

 

Dr. John Richard Schrock is the editor of the Kansas School Naturalist and former chairman of the Biology Department at Emporia State University.