Keep students motivated and save
money byredesigning high
school to offer grades 11-14
A Civic Caucus
Focus on Human Capital
Interview October 16, 2015
John Adams, Dave Broden (vice
chair), Pat Davies, Paul Gilje (executive director), Randy Johnson,
Sallie Kemper (associate director), Ted Kolderie, Dan Loritz (chair),
Paul Ostrow, Bill Ridelius, Dana Schroeder (associate director), Bob
Wedl. By phone: Janis Clay, Clarence Shallbetter.
Associate Bob Wedl makes the case for redesigning high schools for the
21st century by creating grade 11-to-14 schools. Those schools, he
says, would eliminate the overlap between high schools and
postsecondary institutions, which often offer the same courses. And
the 11-to-14 schools would offer high school students the opportunity
to earn free college credits and credentials, possibly even A.A. or
B.A. degrees, while still in high school.
Wedl says that Minnesota's Post Secondary
Enrollment Options (PSEO) program, created by the Legislature in 1985,
is a step in this direction. It allows high school students to take
college classes for free, while earning both high school and college
credits. He points out the large savings PSEO offers families whose
students are earning free college credit and the savings to the state
from paying out less for some college courses than for per-pupil aid
to school districts. High school Advanced Placement (AP) and
International Baccalaureate (IB) programs have also offered the
potential for high school students to earn college credits. But
Wedl says high schools should drop those programs in favor of students
taking actual college classes through programs like College in the
Schools, PSEO and partnerships with postsecondary institutions, so
students get guaranteed college credits.
Although Wedl says we should try to improve
the current system, he doesn't see that as really creating the system
change the 11-to-14 schools would create. He believes those schools
would offer more personalized and more motivating learning
opportunities for high school students and even potentially draw back
to school students who have dropped out. He points to a number of
Minnesota school districts and chartered schools that have developed
ways of merging high school and postsecondary education. As in those
examples, Wedl sees openness to the redesign coming from creative
school superintendents and school boards, but not from the state.
Bob Wedl is senior associate at Education|Evolving (E|E), a
nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Minnesota that works
nationally on helping public education with the difficult process of
change. Most recently E|E has been involved in the redesign of
schooling by urging that teachers be provided greater autonomy and
flexibility to create and lead schools. This model is referred to as
Wedl's career in public education includes
experience in district and chartered schools, Minnesota Department of
Education (MDE) leadership, and higher education. He served as
Minnesota's Commissioner of Education in the late 1990s, leading the
state's innovative standards and measurement initiatives, use of new
electronic data collection systems and adoption of new finance models,
including having revenue follow students to the school sites they
In the late 1980s, Wedl served as deputy
commissioner of education in the Gov. Rudy Perpich administration,
where Wedl was a leader in the development of much of Minnesota's
education choice policy. That policy includes open enrollment,
postsecondary enrollment options (PSEO) and "second chance" programs
for at-risk students. In the early 1990s, he assisted in the
development of the nation's first chartered school law.
Wedl served as executive director of
planning and policy for the Minneapolis Public Schools. There he led
the development of new models for serving students, expanded the
Response to Intervention (RtI) model and assisted in developing a
"value-added growth accountability model." He also provided direction
to the district's nine chartered schools and 33 contract alternative
Because Wedl found persuading the district
sector of public education to innovate so difficult, he led the
development of Innovative Quality Schools (IQS) an authorizer of
chartered schools. When he left as managing partner, IQS was
authorizer for 23 of the state's most innovative schools.
He has served as an adjunct faculty member
in the education administration departments at the University of
Minnesota and the University of Saint Thomas. He has undergraduate and
graduate degrees from Saint Cloud State University.
The Civic Caucus has released
two recent statements on human capital: one in September 2014
laying out the human-capital challenges facing the state today and in
coming years and a
follow-up paper in January 2015
offering recommendations for maintaining a
high-quality workforce in Minnesota. The Civic Caucus interviewed Bob
Wedl of Education|Evolving to learn more about his proposal to merge
the last two years of high school with the first two years of
postsecondary education by creating grade 11-to-14 schools.
Note: In 1998, towards the end of his
role as Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner, Wedl wrote a
paper on redesigning the high school of the 21st century by creating
grade 11-to-13 schools. (In his discussion below with the Civic
Caucus, Wedl said he now talks about this restructuring as creating
grade 11-to-14 or even grade 9-to-14 schools.) In the paper, he asked
four key questions:
What is the purpose of high
What is the significance of acquiring a high school diploma?
Must one complete high school before attending postsecondary
Can parts of high school and postsecondary school actually be
combined, thereby impacting the mission of both?
He noted in the paper that these questions
are rarely addressed in a substantive way during discussions on school
reform. But he said they should be, if significant reform is to occur.
"Although learning is indeed a life-long process, how to best arrange
for the initial preparation, including high schools and postsecondary,
is at a critical juncture," he wrote. Because the value of a
high school diploma is now negligible, Wedl suggested that it is just
a matter of time before a high school diploma is replaced with a
diploma that serves as evidence of career preparation or
The world was different back in
the days of Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich's administration
(1976-1979 and 1983-1991) especially in the field of education.
According to Wedl, in those days, people could earn a living with a
high school diploma. "There was little competition from the rest of
the world," Wedl said. "The U.S. was number one, although Japan was
entering the car industry. Higher education was pretty cheap. Kids
were kids, so there was one size of education made to fit all.
Eleventh- and 12th-grade students were still kids, which they aren't
anymore." All of these things were a lot different back then, he said.
The 3-R's were the top priority of the
Legislature then. That has now changed to where the six S's are taking
their share of available revenue. They are: sickness (health costs),
seniors, safety (because of 911), systems infrastructure, save the
environment, and scoundrels (in the corrections system). Students are
competing with these for funding. Wedl suggested the financing of the
current E-12 model is not sustainable and that we must adopt Ted
Kolderie's concept of the "split screen": Continue to improve the
current system while at the same time engaging in restructuring.
Lots of systems in both the public and
private sectors were and continue to be resistant to change, Wedl
said. He pointed to Digital Equipment Corporation's refusal to embrace
the personal computer as the reason for its demise and Dayton-Hudson's
willingness to develop Target as its reason for survival. Public
education, too, was and is extremely resistant to change in any
significant way, he said. In 1983, Independent-Republican State Rep.
Connie Levi shepherded a law through the Legislature that enabled high
school students to attend college at their own expense, even without a
high school diploma. She had naturally assumed, Wedl said, that high
schools would give these students high school credit for the college
classes completed successfully. Levi was shocked when many high
So, in 1985, when Governor Rudy Perpich
proposed that students in 11th and 12th grade
could attend college at district expense as a part of his "Access to
Excellence" proposal, Levi became its champion, Wedl said. As House
Majority Leader, she ushered that part of the Governor's bill through
the House. The bill also required that high schools give high school
credit for college classes successfully completed, which is what Levi
expected to happen with her 1983 bill. Had high schools embraced
Levi's 1983 law rather than fighting it, Wedl wondered if PSEO would
even have been necessary.
Underneath the PSEO discussions was the idea
of how to use PSEO to really merge grades 11, 12, 13 and14. Wedl
pointed to the significant overlap of high school and college courses,
like pre-calculus, British literature, advanced chemistry, Spanish 4,
etc. He said kids take those courses in high school and end up
repeating them in college, so the state ends up paying twice for the
Although the primary purpose of PSEO was to
enable high school students to access postsecondary courses, there was
always the underlying idea that PSEO was actually a systems redesign
law, Wedl maintained. That is what his 1998 paper was about."How could
we build a new system that would eliminate that overlap?" he asked.
"How do we merge systems? That's a lot different from getting a kid to
take college classes. That's very easy to do, but how do you get
systems that are in competition to merge? How can we create a new kind
of system that would meld grades 11 to 14 into a single system?"
The policies driving those questions, Wedl
explained, include the following:
The purpose of high school must be clarified. The high school
diploma is a creation of the 20th century. Up to 1950, eighth grade
was the terminal degree for many people. But in the 21st century, a
high school diploma alone will be of little value, Wedl remarked.
Postsecondary education of some sort will be the new "minimum
There was a myth that students can't be successful in grade 13
without completing grade 12. PSEO really destroyed that myth, he
Learning now has to be personalized. Under this new model, Wedl
said, the students' needs and aspirations are the drivers of
schooling. In the 20th century model, students take what schools
have to offer. In the new grade 11-14 school, students will be able
to personalize their learning. This will lead to students who are
more motivated to learn, students achieving more and more students
staying in school. "When schooling is personalized, it has a sense
of purpose," Wedl stated. "When learning is purposeful, students
The majority of students who go on to postsecondary are
successful in their freshman and sophomore years of college. Wedl
hypothesized that at least 25 percent of kids could be successful if
they enrolled in those college classes full-time in 11th and 12th
grades. "Now with PSEO, student success is validated," Wedl said. "A
high percentage of the high school kids who go to PSEO full-time
don't have any problem. In fact, their grade-point averages are
higher than the college freshmen."
The goal of the proposed redesign that would
create grade 11-to-14 schools is that students should be either fully
prepared for what they are going to do next in their lives or, at the
least, be well on their way, at huge savings to families and also some
savings to the state. Wedl emphasized that postsecondary does not
mean four-year liberal arts college only. He suggested the data
demonstrate that more students will benefit from a two-year technical
college degree in the future. Also, some of the lower-performing
students will aspire to unskilled jobs, but even for those positions,
the new school must make them prepared.
Wedl described the continuum of post-high
school outcomes as the following:
Successfully completing an approved work-experience program that
includes a semester of a work-preparation seminar and a semester of
job experience, leading to a job following graduation. One example
of such a program would be for a nursing home assistant.
Entering the military, which now requires a high school diploma.
Completing a one-year career certification in areas such as
welding, construction trades, nursing assistant, cosmetology, etc.
Following a trades pathway, such as becoming an electrician or
plumber, which requires an apprenticeship period following
Completing a two-year postsecondary program (which may be #4
above). Following employment with the A.A. degree, many
businesses will provide financial incentives for the student to
complete a B.A. degree. Siemens Corp. in Europe leads with this
Completing a four-year postsecondary program.
In the redesigned grade 11-to-14 school,
students could complete any of the above first five at either no cost
to the family or significantly reduced cost. The only cost would be
for a four-year postsecondary program. But even there, students could
complete the first two years of the program at no cost. Wedl continues
to be surprised at all of the discussion at both the federal and state
level about providing two years of college free to students. "That
assumes we do not redesign the current model," he said. "Heck, we can
provide two years free right now. But we choose the status quo over
PSEO offers cost savings to parents and to
the state. Assume, Wedl said, that a full 25 percent of the
state's public school 11th- and 12th-graders participated in PSEO
full-time. And assume that half of those students took their PSEO
courses at state community or technical colleges, while the other half
took their PSEO courses at state universities. (This assumption
excludes the fact that under PSEO, students can take classes at
private colleges and the University of Minnesota, as well.) Based on
2012 college tuition and high school revenue data, the families of all
the students in the assumption would save a total of around $200
million in college tuition and books paid by the state through PSEO.
The savings are much higher when the cost of room and board is
factored in, since many students would incur those costs if they did
not attend postsecondary until they completed high school.
And, under those same assumptions, the state
would save up to $40 million, since the college tuition and books for
those students attending state community or technical colleges would
cost less than the state aid that would have been paid to the
students' home school districts if they weren't enrolled in PSEO. Wedl
pointed out that there is only a savings to the state for PSEO
students who attend community/technical college, because tuition and
books at state universities, the U of M and private colleges exceed
the state aid.
These calculations, Wedl noted, include only
PSEO students attending postsecondary full time. Clearly, when adding
PSEO students who attend part time, the savings would increase.
Since Wedl wrote his paper, high schools and
colleges are beginning to use College in the Schools models. In
this model, students remain at the high school and high school
teachers who are qualified to teach at a college are trained and
mentored by a college teacher who also teaches that class at the
college to freshman or sophomore students. The high school teacher
uses the college teacher's syllabus, textbooks, readings, student
assignments, student tests, etc. Students then receive high school
credit and the same college credit as if they had taken the class
directly from the college instructor.
With this model, the high school pays the
college a reduced tuition amount for each student. The model would
work as Wedl's suggested grade 11-14 school, except that colleges are
often reluctant to permit the high school to offer too many courses,
as this reduces the courses students would take at the college. This
competition is what prevents the grade 11-14 school from moving
forward, other than on a piecemeal basis.
If this country is going to maintain its
world leadership position, it's going to have to rely on a highly
educated workforce here and around the world. "But then we proceed
to make higher education so expensive, you can't do it," Wedl said.
"That alone should really be a reason to look at redesign. That's what
this grade 11-to-14 concept is."
Wedl said there are various ways to move
toward that redesign:
Continue to move our current schools into this model as we are
currently doing with both PSEO on the college campus as well as
College in the Schools. "We do want to continue to improve what
we're currently doing," Wedl said. But that alone will fall short of
what is needed."
Most, if not all, high schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) or
International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. Wedl reported that these
models were introduced in the period when high school students could
not participate in postsecondary learning. In other words, these
programs served students well, but perhaps are no longer needed, he
said. With AP and IB, students get certificates that can be
exchanged later for college credit, if the college decides to
grant credit. Some do not. Also, some may grant college credit, but
not credit that meets any requirements. "Let's just go with models
that award college credit and that provide a transcript just like
any college student receives for classes taken," Wedl said.
Wedl pointed out that the Higher Learning
Commission (HLC), which accredits postsecondary institutions in the
Midwest and South-Central states, recently imposed a new requirement
on high school teachers who are teaching College in the Schools
classes. To teach in the program, teachers must now have a master's
degree in the discipline they're teaching or a minimum of 18 credits
in the discipline plus a master's degree in education. Previously, the
high school teachers could have any kind of master's degree in
education to teach the college courses, without specific courses in
"That requirement eliminates a lot of
teachers in the College in the Schools program," Wedl commented. "It
is uncertain where the pressure for this new HLC directive is coming
from, but there is obvious competition here. Every time a high school
teacher teaches a College in the Schools British Literature class, a
college professor doesn't get to teach it. And with on-college-campus
PSEO, when the college professor teaches a calculus class, the high
school teacher doesn't get to teach it."
"Why don't they work together?" he asked.
"Their objective is to educate the kids. Adult needs frequently trump
There are other ways to redesign the system.
Wedl suggested the following:
At one time, Wedl said, Minnesota had the Area Vocational and
Technical Institutes (AVTIs) that were part of the K-12 districts.
AVTIs went through grade 14 and were tuition-free. "We could go back
to that model, but that's not too likely," he said.
We could enable all of the institutions-high schools and
colleges-to teach in each other's systems. If we did that, Wedl
said, both could be more entrepreneurial. A college could teach
Algebra II or grade 11 American History and then get the state aid
now going to the high school for each student in the class. Or, more
likely, a high school could decide which college classes to teach
from the course offerings of the college, using qualified high
The high school would no longer offer any advanced classes for
high school credit. All advanced classes would be for college
credit. The high school teaching college classes would remove the
competitive nature that currently exists. Some high schools might
become more "interdistrict" and offer the postsecondary learning
models that motivate more students. Clearly the digital platform
could be used where students access college-level classes online
from anywhere in the world and have that learning validated. "That
would really be a way to open this up," he said.
The chartered sector could develop this model and thus fulfill
one of the purposes intended by the 1991 Legislature: that chartered
schools be laboratories of innovation.
The Legislature could make far better use of the current law
that created the "Innovation Zone" by enabling high schools and
postsecondary institutions to create a new school where learning for
students in grades nine to 12 is personalized, based on their needs
and aspirations. The state graduation standards would not apply,
Wedl suggested, meaning that all students would be required to
attain high expectations, but not in the same areas of study as is
required under current state graduation rules. Students would move
at their own pace, which would mean that a few ninth-grade students
would be earning college credit. Most students would complete a
significant part of postsecondary education at no added cost to the
state and significant savings to families. In this school, athletics
and other extracurricular activities would not be an issue.
We could follow the Japanese or European model, where
corporations and unions do much of the training and/or cover most of
the cost of advanced degrees.
A small number of schools in Minnesota are
doing a good job of merging high school and postsecondary education.
"There are schools where the model is working," Wedl said,
highlighting the following:
Wedl noted that the planning of the first such school in the
Anoka-Hennepin School District started in 1999, shortly after his
paper was disseminated. The Anoka STEP High School, currently led by
Jessica Lipa, is a model that emulates the grade 11-to-14 school. (
the February 27, 2015, Civic Caucus interview with Lipa.) The
school is located on the campus of the Anoka Technical College and
students easily take both high school and college classes. The high
school has no advanced classes, just as envisioned by the Grade
11-14 school. All advanced classes are college classes. While at
STEP, most students complete their A.A. degree or at least a year of
college, others complete their career certifications, others easily
transition to four-year postsecondary education, while others move
right into a livable-wage job.
Recently, Wedl said, the Staples-Motley School District started
Connections High School, in collaboration with Central Lakes College
in Staple and the local business community, to put students on the
road to completing their career certifications in the trades. The
hope is that students will leave Connections High School and move
into a livable-wage job in the Staples area, rather than moving to
the Twin Cities. (
The Bloomington School District has created a new high
school/college in cooperation with Normandale Community College and
the Minnesota State University-Mankato's Twin Cities campus. Wedl
said the program is for "the smartest of the smart," kids who are
bored even in ninth grade. The students are taking a lot of classes
at the high school, some at Normandale and some at Mankato State's
Twin Cities campus. He said this will allow some kids to get their
B.A. degrees in high school.
Mounds View Public Schools followed Anoka in providing students
the opportunity to earn a two-year associate degree for free, while
still enrolled in high school. The district offers College in the
Schools courses in partnership with the University of Minnesota and
career and technical education programs in partnership with the
Northeast Metro Tech Center.
Wedl said the Long Prairie-Grey Eagle School District has had a
program for the past seven years that allows its high school
students who choose to participate to graduate with an A.A. degree.
The program runs in cooperation with Central Lakes College in
Staples. According to school counselor Jonathan Young, nine
students, or more than 10 percent of the 2015 graduating class,
earned A.A. degrees while in high school. Eight students in the
class of 2016 are slated to do the same. He pointed out that a
number of other students at the high school earn college credit
through the College in the Schools program or through PSEO.
The Alexandria School District has established the Academies of
Alexandria as the core of its high school program. Students in
grades 10 to 12 enroll in one of three academies: (1) engineering,
manufacturing, technologies and natural resources, (2) business,
communications and entrepreneurship, and (3) health sciences and
human services. The district works closely with the Alexandria
business community. (See the
Technical Academies of Minnesota, a chartered school, will
eventually have four campuses in the state: one in Willmar, one in
Owatonna that opened this year, and future campuses in Rochester and
Jackson. Wedl said the objective is that students will be ready to
go into an apprenticeship after high school.
Academy of Construction and Engineering Sciences (ACES) School,
a chartered school, will open in the Twin Cities next year.
"A number of these programs are starting,"
Wedl said, "but it's a little bit here and a little bit there, instead
of saying, 'If we're going to have this highly educated workforce,
we'd best get on with it.' That's not happening."
The personalized learning that the blending
of high school and college offers can help motivate students who are
lagging behind. Wedl said a lot of kids drop out because high
school has no sense of purpose, no meaning. But the opportunity to
create a personalized learning program by combining high school and
college classes that meet students' needs and interests could draw
high school dropouts back to school. "We can create the kinds of
learning environments that kids are turned onto," he said. "We can set
up motivating environments."
Where there is push for the grade 11 to 14
redesign, it comes from local school superintendents and local school
boards, not from the state. "I see the continued push to help make
the current system better coming from the Governor and Legislature,
but I don't see redesign efforts coming from there," Wedl said.
People don't really know about what could
be. Perhaps the best way to "move the system" is to inform the
public, Wedl said. "What if parents knew that they don't have
to pay a dime for community and technical college?" he asked.
"Wouldn't they demand that the district school board redesign high
school to make this happen? Likely!"
"During the recent school board campaigns
around the state, have you heard any candidates say they will move to
redesign high school so that students will complete two years of
college at no cost to parents?" Wedl asked. "Or so students can
complete their welding certificate or cosmetologist license or nursing
assistant certification-all at no cost? No. No one is saying that. Why
don't they say, 'Let's do it here?' We need to use the power of
information to convey what could be."
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,