In a July 2009 speech to the NAACP, then-President Barack Obama held up Bard High School Early College (BHSEC) as an example of reform badly needed to prepare students for the 21st century.
In 2001, Bard College opened the first of its early college high schools in lower Manhattan, in conjunction with the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE). It aimed to show that high school students were capable of the type of rigorous thinking that is demanded in college. It also sought to help students reach their highest levels of academic potential if exposed to an engaging liberal arts program at a younger age. The Bard curriculum allows students to earn both a high school diploma and a two-year associate’s degree in four years.
A Rigorous Evaluation Shows College Success
To examine the model’s value, BHSEC engaged Metis to conduct a three-year study with a grant from the Booth Ferris Foundation. The evaluation reviewed outcomes from the classes of 2010, 2012, and 2013 in their Manhattan and Queens high schools. Using data from the NYCDOE and National Student Clearinghouse Database, Metis compared the performance of Bard students to that of students with similar profiles upon entry to other NYC high schools. Two rigorously matched comparison groups were constructed: one comprised of students attending specialized/selective schools and the other consisting of students attending “standard” or “traditional” schools.
Outcomes examined included:
- High school credit accumulation
- Graduation from high school within four years
- College admission and persistence
- Post-graduate activities
The study revealed particularly exciting and promising findings at the post-secondary level. BHSEC graduates had significantly higher four-year college graduation rates overall than their matched comparisons who attended other NYC public high schools. This finding was even stronger for African American students and males.
Follow-up Study Enriches Understanding of Positive Outcomes
A second grant from Booth Ferris (2015–2018) allowed for the continuation of the initial study by examining results at a BHSEC school in another city—Newark, New Jersey. For this study, in addition to the rigorous quantitative component, the Metis evaluators conducted qualitative data collection activities to provide a rich context for understanding the quantitative results.
Overall, the Newark study found several statistically significant positive findings related to high school credit accumulation and graduation rates. It also uncovered a few positive results related to college enrollment, when comparing BHSEC students to their matched comparisons in Class of 2015 and Class of 2016. The qualitative study corroborated these findings. This study found that the model emphasizes the critical thinking and writing skills that students need to be successful as they transition to four-year colleges and ultimately to their careers.