October 2, 2018 | Katherine Adams
During the day, Kai Bouchard is principal of Robert Turner College and Career High School in Pearland Independent School District. In the evenings, he is often at University of Houston-Clear Lake, working toward his doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis. And sometimes in between, he is in the Texas State Capitol giving expert testimony about the merits of the dual-credit program in his school before a joint meeting of the Committee of Higher Education and the Committee of Education.
“I was invited to Austin to speak, along with other experts, on a panel about recommendations we have for legislators going forward about dual-credit programs in high schools in Texas,” Bouchard said. “I was asked to represent my school because we offer students a regular high school program, career and technical education, as well as the opportunity to acquire as associate’s degree in general studies from Alvin Community College. Our programs have proven to be successful.”
Bouchard said that his school’s total population is about 1,200. “Last year, 263 students graduated. Forty-five percent had more than 30 college credits upon graduating, and 80 had a full associate’s degree, with over 60 college credit hours. Those students were able to transfer into a 4-year college as transfer students, not as incoming freshmen,” he said. “They completed all their pre-requisite courses and went straight into their majors.”
Turner College and Career High School also offers 15 specialized career pathways. “Within each of those pathways, there’s a coherent sequence of Career and Technical Education courses students can take over four years and they’ll pick up an industry certificate while they’re still in high school,” Bouchard said. “Turner students earned 670 industry certificates last year and were able to use them to begin a career path directly, or to work part-time while continuing their college educations.”
The purpose of the meeting in Austin was to help senators decide if dual-credit programs should become a common practice in all high schools across Texas, explained Bouchard. “This is particularly aimed at communities with underrepresented populations. It’s a means for students to get to a better life. These days, a high school diploma by itself gets you nothing.”
In his career as a high school administrator, Bouchard said that his most frustrating moments were when he was faced with a student who simply wasn’t a good fit for the regular high school curriculum and was about to become disenchanted enough to drop out. “As an assistant principal, I couldn’t fall back and offer that student a Plan B,” he said. “The assistant principal is often the last stop before a student drops out of school. It was very difficult when I had to sit in that role with no more tools to engage that student and keep him in school. Schools that can offer comprehensive Career and Technical Education programs can offer a strong incentive for that student to stay in school.”
Bouchard added that the study of the relationship between career and technical education programs and high school dropout rates was the focus of his doctoral dissertation. He hopes to complete his degree at UH-Clear Lake in May 2019.
With a certification in a CTE program, such as information technology or welding, Bouchard said that students will have a realistic path to success. “Turner has been open for five years,” he said. “Our most recent graduation rate was 99.6 percent. We’ve seen a steady increase over the last four years of students getting their associate’s degrees.”
Eventually, Bouchard and other expert panelists who testified – including the deputy superintendents of Dallas and San Antonio school districts – hope there will be a law to establish dual credit as a viable option in all high schools.
“The senators were specifically interested in the level of academic rigor in the dual credit programs as compared to the advanced placement programs and international baccalaureate programs,” he said. “A researcher from the University of Texas System conducted a study of students and faculty within the system to determine if students at UT that came from a dual credit program were as prepared as other students who were doing introductory-level courses as freshmen and sophomores. The results showed no difference in the level of preparedness.”
Bouchard said that that information was the biggest “a-ha moment” of the hearing. “The senators were very happy to hear there was no difference in the level of academic rigor,” he said. “We hope that means they’ll increase the dual credit opportunities in high schools in the future.”
For more information about UHCL’s doctorate in educational leadership, visit www.uhcl.edu/academics/degrees/educational-leadership-edd.