If we want to reduce incidents of drunk driving, should we raise the alcohol tax? This and other real-world economic policy questions are debated in the Syracuse University Project Advance dual enrollment economics class at Arlington High School. Some students argue that while higher taxes could reduce incidents, there may be unforeseen issues (for instance, would more people turn to drugs?). In their discussions, students learn that economic policies can have unintended consequences and issues like these need to be thoroughly examined. Teaching these real-world thinking skills is critical to the Arlington Public Schools’ goal of developing smarter, educated citizens.
Funded by an Arlington Education Foundation grant, the Project Advance economics class is the district’s first dual enrollment course – an actual college course – available to high school students. According to Kerry Dunne, Arlington’s Social Studies Curriculum Director, “Dual enrollment is a very hot trend in secondary education right now. Studies show that if high school students participate and complete one Advanced Placement (AP) or dual enrollment class, the chances of them completing four years of college are far higher – even if they fail the test. We hope every Arlington student will take at least one of these classes.”
The Project Advance class is taught by Arlington High School’s first economics teacher, Ian MacKay. MacKay has received training from Syracuse University and is certified as an adjunct instructor at the University. He has access to all of the college course materials and is supervised by a lead economics professor at Syracuse. MacKay reflects, “The dual enrollment class pushes students to learn thinking skills that go along with economics and apply them to real world situations. It makes students smarter, educated citizens of the world. And since they are taking the Project Advance mid-term and final exams, students get a preview of what college will be like.”
In the dual enrollment class, students are pushed to continue to develop their political ideology. The curriculum requires the students to grapple with the continuously debated question of whether the economy works better with or without government intervention. Students are given the options the government has at their disposal and in-depth explanations of both sides of the argument. Throughout the class, they use this information to debate the topic at hand. Students have commented that this study has greatly enhanced their understanding of American politics.
According to Dunne, “Through the Project Advance grant, the district is achieving three of its goals: offering students increased exposure to economics, increasing the number of AP-level courses offered, and providing a sustained civics education.” Arlington High School currently offers 13 AP-level classes and is striving to offer more. But whereas AP classes are more commonly used for college course placement, dual enrollment courses offer actual college credit. Students in dual enrollment do not have to take an AP test, and can focus on learning and thinking rather than passing a test. And the bonus is that they get started on their college transcripts.
Dunne continues “It helps college freshman to have three college credits under their belt when they start. There are real, practical outcomes. For example, fall semester freshmen that are sinking in a class can drop it and not fall behind. It also gives students flexibility to pick a minor, participate in a coop or internship, or to study abroad.”
Syracuse University Project Advance offers 38 courses in 22 academic disciplines. Enrolling approximately 8,000 students, courses are offered on location in more than 200 high schools across 6 states and abroad. For more information, go to www.supa.syr.edu.
Arlington Education Foundation works to support and advance public education in Arlington, Massachusetts. AEF funds system wide initiatives and creative new projects to enhance the educational experiences of Arlington’s teachers and students. In fiscal year 2012, community donations enabled AEF to award nearly $100,000 in grants to the Arlington Public Schools. For more information on AEF’s current and past grants, or to donate, visit www.arlingtoneducationfoundationma.org.