Pasadena City College program suspended over who's teaching it

Pasadena high school students Cesia Rios (left) and Alex Moreno hold up college ID cards they received after taking dual enrollment college classes while in high school.
Pasadena high school students Cesia Rios (left) and Alex Moreno hold up college ID cards they received after taking dual enrollment college classes while in high school.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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Pasadena 12th-grader Cesia Rios met recently with other seniors to talk about a community college class they took last year in high school, known as a dual enrollment class.

“I felt like a college student,” said Cesia Rios of what she learned in the Spanish literature class she took last academic year at her campus, Marshall Fundamental School. “It was actually a lot of pressure and we did a lot, a lot of work in that class.”

Pasadena school officials said Rios is one of about 400 students who took dual enrollment classes last year.

But this year Pasadena Unified School District and Pasadena City College officials suspended nearly all the classes because of a disagreement over who should teach the classes.

“This program is supposed to be a bridge between high school and college,” said Mark Whitworth, president of the 1,500-member Pasadena City College Faculty Association.

Whitworth said he brought up the concerns last summer that led to the cancellation of the classes. He said program’s instructors, Pasadena Unified teachers who’d qualified as PCC faculty, undermined the goal of the program to give high school students a “real” college experience from a “real” college professor with “real” college expectations.

“A lot of schools in the area have dual enrollment programs and that’s how they’re run, they use their own professors that go to the high schools to teach the class and then the students get a feel for what it means to take a real college class from a real college professor,” he said.

Rios’ dual enrollment teacher, Ana Chavez, disagrees with Whitworth’s claim that her class wasn’t a real college class. She said she used college textbooks, changed her teaching methods, and used her masters’ degree credentials to qualify as a PCC professor.

"I am considered a faculty at PCC. Although I am not full time, permanent, I am a faculty," she said. "I was approved by them, I was hired, I went through the process."

As of last August, nearly 50 California school districts had dual enrollment agreements with area community colleges. A 2015 state law removed some of the barriers to start these classes.

This local conflict over dual enrollment is playing out in other communities – but by most accounts not to the point that classes are cancelled – as dual enrollment classes has grown in recent years. Researchers said the disagreement over who teaches the classes signals a larger concern among educators over the quality of dual enrollment classes.

“If a student isn’t exposed to a real college level experience, not experiencing the pace and content of a traditional college level course, then that goal is not being achieved, students are being shortchanged,” said Jennifer Zinth, director of high school and STEM at Education Commission of the States.

The classes are popular because students earn high school and college credits and because both colleges and high schools get to count the students for state funding purposes.

Research does suggest, she said, that dual enrollment is leading to higher grades, greater enrollment in college, and lower college drop out rates after the first year.

Along with an “off the charts” growth of dual enrollment programs nationwide, she said, some of the same quality concerns raised in some California communities have been raised in other states.

“Now there are a few states, in the 2017 legislative session… they’ve required the state to do an evaluation of dual enrollment programs to see what are the outcomes of students in terms of college completion and going into the workforce,” Zinth said.

California, she said, is one of the few states that does not spell out requirements for dual enrollment instructors, it leaves it up to the community colleges.

Neither Zinth or any of the education officials interviewed said they knew of another community in which the disagreement over who teaches the dual enrollment classes had reached the point of cancelling the classes.

Officials at Pasadena Unified and Pasadena City College said they expected to work out a new agreement detailing who teaches the classes. At Los Angeles high schools, teaching of dual enrollment classes is up to current community college faculty, not high school teachers who’ve met college faculty requirements.

Pasadena school officials said they aren’t opposed to having current PCC faculty teach the classes. It is unfortunate, school and faculty officials said, that the disagreement had to lead to the cancellation of classes.

“I’m just concerned when adult issues interrupt the process of what we’re trying to do for kids. As far as I can tell these are adult issues,” said Scott Phelps, member of the board at Pasadena Unified.

The creation of dual enrollment classes, he said, is one of several policies his school district has adopted to enroll more graduates in college.

“Part of going to college is believing you can do it… it’s really important that [students] see a pathway to their future and then they experience it,” Phelps said.

Senior Cesia Rios can attest to that.

She said she’s sad that she isn’t able to take the next Spanish literature dual enrollment class but taking last year’s class brought into sharper focus her place in college.

She digs into her backpack and hold up proof that college is not only part of her future, it’s part of her present. It’s a card she received last year with the PCC mascot, the Lancer.

“After I got my Lancer card from PCC, that’s when I actually felt like, 'Wow, I’m college material.'”