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.
The Great Resignation continues. 21 million Americans left their job in 2021, with more than 4.5 million leaving last November alone, and trends continuing into 2022. We see turnover reflected in independent school job boards, too, with one regional independent school association director telling me that their job board postings were up more than 30% over the prior year.
We’re starting to understand why people are leaving. Pew Research did an extensive study on this, as have others. And, there’s no shortage of advice on what employers can do to combat the Great Recession: adopt a marketing mindset, embrace transparency and diversity practices, get rid of toxic workplace culture, pay people more.
What about just designing work that people love? That simple idea (more positive focused, and more people focused) really appeals to me and is the premise of a Harvard Business Review article from leadership consultant Marcus Buckingham.
So, how can Academic Leaders understand whether people love to work at their school? Start with three questions, says Buckingham, to better understand employee retention, engagement, inclusion, and more:
By listening to and learning from the answers, Academic Leaders can build capacity for everyone in our schools to thrive and increase their capacity to build and lead an effective team.
I’m going to share something that would shock anyone who knew me in my teen years. I’m not only a runner, I’m a running coach. Well, sort of. I serve as a pace group leader in my local marathon club. My pace group is one of the slowest ones, and what typically happens is that each season, beginning runners join our pace group, grow as runners and move on to a faster group in the club on their way to completing their first marathon. I love seeing a new runner proudly finish their first marathon, exhausted, tearful, and exhilarated, all at once. In order to see them finish, I have to be a volunteer at the end, not a fellow runner, because by the time they get marathon ready, just about everyone is far faster than I am. In the end, it doesn’t matter a bit. No one in our club is a “podium” level runner and the only competition is the drive to finish well (which, to us, means still upright). To put it in a nutshell, the marker of success for me is to encourage a new runner to leave me in the dust.
There are direct parallels between my role with my club and your work as Academic Leaders. As Academic Leaders, you work hard to make sure that it’s the teachers and students who should and do shine brightest at the end of year ceremonies, all eyes on their accomplishments. There’s a name for what you do, Academic Leaders–some call it servant leadership, but a better description is “service leadership” or leadership in service to a mission. It’s a term that gets bandied about too casually, and is sometimes even an excuse for forgetting to honor the supportive leaders who make so much of what’s right about our schools happen.
When we published our Academic Leader Competencies, I knew there were parallels to service leadership. In fact, you could say that all association work is this type of leadership work. There’s an old BASF commercial "We don't make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better." That phrase describes our ethos towards work we do for academic leaders and schools.
In my career, the most rewarding work I’ve done is when I strive to elevate others. I learned quickly that leadership wasn’t about me, or how much I knew, or my ideas. Instead, it was about surfacing and nurturing expertise and innovation in others. During my time as a learning specialist and technology integrationist, I began to see the big picture of the school mission embodied as I supported students in learning in multiple disciplines. Often these were students who struggled to understand their gifts and share them with the world. Later, as an academic dean, and then as a dean of teaching and learning, I supported teachers who had deep expertise in disciplines in which I had no such knowledge. My role was to support them in continuing to inspire students by helping them learn new pedagogical strategies to increase their impact in delivering on our mission.
When parents say they chose their child’s school because of the excellent teaching, that’s an unspoken endorsement of the academic leadership as well, even if the parent doesn’t realize it. But, Academic Leaders, we here at your association see it and honor you. During this time when the eyes at school will be focused where they should be, know that ours are on you, celebrating your work and tireless efforts in helping all those stars shine.
One Schoolhouse is proud to announce that Sarah Hanawald will be awarded the ATLIS Pillar award at the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools 2022 annual conference.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)