Just like the academic dean or division head at your school, we at One Schoolhouse keep a close eye on course selection. Since we began to offer our summer program, we’ve watched enrollment climb steadily year over year, and we watch out for trends.
With less than a month to go until the start of the summer session, here’s what the numbers tell us:
Families are becoming savvy shoppers about online courses. Three years ago, we didn’t get a lot of questions about the structure of our courses. Now, parents and guardians want to know about how our courses are built and facilitated–asynchronous cadence, assessment, and teacher connection, among other topics.
Students are eager to use their summer strategically. As we’ve seen in past summers, enrollment is growing year to year. The students who enroll are typically highly motivated and ready for a challenge. They see an online course as a way to help meet their academic goals that doesn’t compromise their ability to have a summer with space to unwind.
Summer students are getting older. For years, Geometry was our top-enrolled summer course, typically populated by students who had just finished ninth grade. This year, our highest enrollment is in Pre-Calculus, and U.S. History isn’t far behind–courses that are typically taken by eleventh graders. The growth in these courses is startling–Pre-Calculus has almost doubled its enrollment over last year’s numbers, and U.S. History has tripled.
More people are waiting until the last moment to enroll–which has its risks. Based on earlier years, we expect half of our summer enrollment to come in between May 13 and June 13. That’s not the way it was a few years ago. The pattern is similar in our school year courses. That’s a bit of a risky choice, because as schools draw closer to the start of the academic program, their ability to be flexible decreases. In May, a bump in enrollment drives us to open another section; in June, we don’t always have that option. Online enrollment has limits just as in-person school does.
More than twenty-five years ago, before social-emotional learning was part of the broader lexicon, the faculty at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington DC took a close look at their student wellness. They noticed that eleventh grade saw a convergence of heavy reading loads in both English and U.S. History classes, and students were choosing to give up electives such as Studio Art in order to have more free time during the day.
In addition, intensive study gave students a new perspective. By focusing intently on a single topic, students saw the themes and patterns of American history with a new clarity. The course was easier and more engrossing in the summer, one student said, because “ideas touch.” Sue Foreman, Academic Dean at Georgetown Visitation, describes the summer course as helping students to “connect the dots” because of their immersion in the content.
Then came the pandemic. Offering a summer course on campus was impossible, but the school knew that the option of summer work was still a vital need for their students. As a long-standing member of the One Schoolhouse consortium, Visitation turned to One Schoolhouse and their Summer 2020 US History course.
One Schoolhouse’s for-credit summer courses help students to complete requirements in the summer and pursue their academic goals on campus in the fall. Explore this summer's offerings here.
The dust hasn’t even settled from the 2022 college admissions season, and you can already feel the anxiety rising as students and schools look forward. At highly selective colleges–the target for many independent school families–the numbers of applications keep rising and admission rates continue to drop. I’d imagine those numbers are top of mind as tenth and eleventh graders finish their course selection process this spring.
With many colleges and universities maintaining their test-optional admissions, course selection and transcripts take on added weight. As a result, Calculus has become an unofficial prerequisite, offering assurance that students are taking the most challenging courses their school offers.
Unsurprisingly, enrollment in Calculus courses has jumped over the past 30 years. Between 1997 and 2009 (the last year the U.S. Department of Education completed the High School Transcript Study), Calculus enrollment more than doubled from 7% in 1997 to 16% in 2009.
Access to Calculus, however, is not always a reflection of students’ ability to complete higher-level math courses. Often, it’s a reflection of the middle school students attended. That’s because in order to take Calculus in the senior year, students need to have completed Algebra I before starting high school. That’s fairly standard in independent schools, but just 24% of public school students take Algebra I in eighth grade.
As a result, independent high school math placement in ninth grade often aligns with whether or not a student attended an independent K-8, and because white students are dramatically over-represented in independent schools, white students are typically over-represented first in ninth-grade Geometry and, eventually, in twelfth grade Calculus.
Math achievement in high school shouldn’t be determined by the education a student has access to in middle school–and it doesn’t have to be.
Imagine a ninth grade curriculum that covers the material of Algebra I, well-scaffolded by explicit instruction in executive functioning skills and growth mindsets, followed by a summer program that guides students through Geometry coursework. Those students return to school in the fall of tenth grade, ready for Algebra II and on track for Calculus in their senior year.
We’re proud that our summer math courses are used by schools to help build equity in their academic programs. Frequently, schools subsidize or cover the cost of the course as part of their tuition assistance package. Since first offering the course, Geometry has consistently been our top-enrolled summer course. When we last surveyed our summer math students, 100% of respondents told us that their One Schoolhouse summer course prepared them for the next academic year.
Will Calculus always serve as a gatekeeper to college admissions? That’s a question math teachers, college admissions officers, and researchers are trying to answer. A 2021 report sponsored by Just Equations and NACAC, A New Calculus for College Admissions: How Policy, Practice, and Perceptions of High School Math Education Limit Equitable Access to College offers research and proposals to widen the pipeline to advanced mathematics, and to encourage college admissions offices to rethink their assumptions about high school math.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)