The District’s public school system is partnering with Bard College in New York to open a school next fall that will allow students to graduate from high school with a two-year college associate degree.
The city hopes a liberal arts college curriculum can boost the performance of high school students living in neighborhoods with the District’s highest dropout rates and meet families’ demands for more rigorous education options in poorer areas of the city.
The Bard High School Early College would operate out of a vacant school building or an existing school in the District, though it would be a separate operation with its own principal and faculty.
The program is expected to be housed in a building east of the Anacostia River — the swath of the city with the highest concentration of impoverished children. The city said it will collect feedback from the public in coming months to determine the building it should select.
“With Bard High School Early College, we are answering the community’s call for more early college options and building new pathways to college for our young people,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in a news release announcing the partnership Wednesday.
But Bard College is making big promises to prepare students for four-year college in a city that has struggled, despite lofty investments, to improve the attendance and academic records of its most vulnerable students. In Ward 8, one of the wards east of the Anacostia River, fewer than 45 percent of seniors in neighborhood high schools graduated in June, compared with 59 percent of seniors citywide. In the ward’s neighborhood high schools, fewer than 5 percent of high schoolers passed the English portion of a national standardized test.
Bard will compete for students with charter schools, which have pulled many high-performing students out of their neighborhood campuses. College leaders hope this early-college program could bring back students who live east of the Anacostia River but leave those neighborhoods to attend school elsewhere.
“We are shortening high school, which in my view is a very troubled area in American education — and we are starting college early with college faculty,” said Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College. “And the results are remarkable.”
Bard operates High School Early Colleges in New York, Newark, Cleveland, Baltimore and New Orleans, and says that 85 percent of its students attend a four-year college within the first year of graduation. In New York, where the early-college schools started more than 15 years ago, more than 95 percent of graduates earned bachelor’s degrees, according to the college.
Bard High School Early College will function like a magnet school, and students across the city can apply if they want to attend. Bard will interview applicants and require a writing sample but will not consider test scores or transcripts in the selection process.
“We are looking for students who are not necessarily perfect on paper, but students who demonstrate a spark or intellectual curiosity,” said Clara Haskell Botstein, the associate vice president of Bard Early Colleges. “We seek out and identify talent in nontraditional ways.”
Haskell Botstein said the school is seeking teachers who have doctorate degrees and college teaching experience. Once hired, they will be on the District’s payroll and considered assistant professors at Bard College.
D.C. Public Education Fund, a fundraising organization created in 2007 to support reform efforts in the public school system, will help fund the launch of Bard High School Early College. Once it hits full capacity — more than 100 students per grade — the school system will cover its costs through its standard funding allocations.
The school will open with a ninth grade and a small 11th grade in fall 2019. Students who do not graduate with their associate degree can still earn a high school diploma.
The school system hopes to open an early-college program next fall at Coolidge High School in Northwest Washington but is still securing a partnership. A similar program already exists at School Without Walls, a coveted application high school in the city.
Bard High School Early College will offer humanities, science and math courses. Students will write more papers than traditional high school curriculums, and similar to college courses, they will be assigned reading at home to be prepared for discussions in classes.
Jeremiah Kouka, a senior at Bard High School Early College in Baltimore, said keeping up with his weekly reading assignments is difficult, but the school has prepared him to keep pace. He is considering becoming a nurse practitioner and hopes to attend Emory University next year, which would make him the first in his family to attend college.
“Our homework consists of essays and reading different texts. It’s a lot of work, but it’s enjoyable,” he said. “When everyone collectively does their part, the discussions are very beautiful.”