About the Woodrow Wilson Early College High School Initiative
History and Goals
The Woodrow Wilson Early College Network is part of a larger national Early College High School (ECHS) Initiative. The ECHS Initiative started with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and is coordinated by Jobs for the Future. Early college schools blend high school and postsecondary education, providing students with a college preparatory curriculum and the opportunity to earn college credits while in high school.
Currently, there are over 200 early college schools nationwide. Thirteen intermediary organizations support the ECHS Initiative by identifying partnerships, distributing and monitoring funds, and fostering network activities (Hoffman and Webb, 2009). As one of the intermediary organizations, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is supporting the establishment or redesign of nearly twenty early college schools.
Historically, the exercise of earning college credit while in high school has been reserved for gifted and talented students who are already on a clear college trajectory. However, the target population for the ECHS Initiative is traditionally underserved students — often the first in their families to go to college.
Comprehensive Student Support
Among the five Core Principles of the ECHS Initiative (including serving students underrepresented in higher education, creating a sustained partnership between postsecondary and secondary education, requiring all students to take college courses while in high school, and working with intermediaries around advancing the development of EC Initiative) is engaging all students in a comprehensive support system that develops the skills and behaviors essential for college completion (Jobs for the Future, 2010, p. 2). All early college schools operate in a high-expectations/high-need environment. Therefore, the imperative for strong student supports is often quite different than in traditional large comprehensive high schools in which a smaller percentage of students complete a college preparatory curriculum.
An essential first step for all early college schools is identifying how best to support students’ academic and bio/psycho/social needs through various programs, practices, and policies. The student support system ultimately informs other pieces of the early college school model, including curriculum and postsecondary partnerships. For many students in early college schools, their academic success depends on feeling validated and supported in the school environment. Therefore, the careful design and implementation of supports is equally, if not more, important than curricular considerations.
Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s Documentation Project
Recognizing the central role of student support in early college schools, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation funded a series of projects to examine the evolution of these supports in early college schools. This research informed the development of a conceptual model for how to effectively develop and implement student support in early college schools and other high-need/high-expectation schools.
Much of this research focused on California College Preparatory Academy (CAL Prep), an early college school created by Aspire Public Schools and the University of California, Berkeley. From its inception, CAL Prep has had a particularly strong focus on creating and maintaining a system of supports to ensure every student meets the school’s rigorous expectations and succeeds after graduation. Cal Prep believes that a comprehensive support system is composed of a coherent structure of programs and practices, powered by an underlying set of principles that integrate the psycho-social, emotional, and academic development of students (Weinstein, 1996; 2002; 2008). Comprehensive student supports are at the heart of the school’s philosophy and drive many other decisions, such as staffing and curriculum.
CAL Prep’s creation provided an opportunity to document how a school can be designed with supports as the central focus. Studying the school offered a chance to learn about the leaders’ choices regarding which supports matter most and how supports should be integrated (with each other and with academics). Read more about the evolution of supports at CAL Prep in the Whole Package.