LI high schools boost college-level course offerings despite tight budgets
College-level courses in subjects ranging from calculus and physics to film and dance are expanding in high schools across Long Island, despite enrollment declines and financial strains that have led to cutbacks in other programs, a Newsday analysis finds.
Dozens of districts are adding courses for the 2014-15 school year that carry the possibility of college credits, either through global programs such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate or through area colleges.
More than 2,300 Advanced Placement courses alone were offered last year at 114 public high schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and many districts reported that AP course lists are growing again after leveling off in recent years.
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Malverne High School, for example, will launch new AP courses this week in four subjects: environmental science, world history, Italian and Spanish. East Rockaway is adding an environmental science course as well, along with new AP offerings in statistics and psychology.
Tough courses an easy sell
School administrators facing tighter budgets said the rigorous course work, some of which carries costs to districts, remains a relatively easy sell because it provides students with potential college credits and tuition breaks.
"There's no downside," said Jennifer Morrison Hart, assistant superintendent in the Eastport-South Manor district. "I really believe it's a great way for students to take advantage of their time in high school."
Eastport-South Manor this year is enlarging its science program to include three different levels of AP Physics courses. Harborfields and Port Jefferson also are expanding AP Physics.
Brian Stanley, a math teacher at Hicksville High School, has spent weeks planning lessons for a new AP Statistics course that he will introduce to 20 students when the school reopens Wednesday. As occurs for many college-level courses, Stanley distributed a 20-page packet to students well in advance, outlining math reviews to be completed over the summer.
One type of problem that students will tackle in the classroom this week revolves around mathematical odds. Stanley plans an exercise similar to one featured in the iconic 1984 movie "Ghostbusters," where students guess which cards classmates are holding, then calculate whether the number of correct guesses exceeds what might be considered normal probability.
"I'm super excited about it," said Stanley, who spent four days in intensive training this summer preparing for the new course.
Advanced Placement studies have remained strong here in recent years, despite the nationwide 2008 economic crash that was followed by two consecutive years of cuts in school aid throughout the state. In 2012, the state imposed additional financial restrictions on schools in the form of caps on property tax increases resulting from district budgets.
Giving students an edge
Public high schools in both counties during the 2013-14 school year, offered a total of 2,379 AP courses -- a figure that has remained virtually unchanged since 2007-08. During that same six-year period, regional enrollments declined nearly 1 percent in the 11th and 12th grades, in which most AP courses are taken.
The Advanced Placement program, the largest of its type, is run by the Manhattan-based College Board. Newsday based its count of AP courses on a website listing maintained by College Board.
Not all school programs have fared so well on Long Island. Elementary class sizes have inched up since 2007-08, though they appeared to have leveled off in the 2013-14 school year. Last week, a regional education coalition reported widespread cuts in sports teams and music performance groups.
College-level courses, on the other hand, have gotten a boost from national ratings posted by the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and Newsweek, which have compared high schools based largely on students' participation in AP courses.
Beyond that, both educators and parents have recognized the obvious: Advanced studies in high school can give students an edge, both in gaining admission to selective colleges and succeeding once they get there.
"As districts get leaner, they're trying to ensure that students get the kind of courses they need to be successful," said Julie Davis Lutz, chief operating officer of the Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
Lutz is in charge of an annual report, sponsored by the Long Island Education Coalition, that tracks cutbacks in school programs and other trends. The coalition represents school boards, superintendents, teacher unions and other groups.
IB program growing
In addition to Advanced Placement, college-level studies are growing in International Baccalaureate programs dotted across the region.
Thirty years ago, only South Side High School in Rockville Centre ran such a program. Now, there are nine designated "IB World Schools" in Nassau and Suffolk, and North Shore High School is on track to become the 10th in 2015.
International Baccalaureate's global hub office is in Geneva, Switzerland, with a regional center outside Washington, D.C.
Like Advanced Placement, the baccalaureate program offers individual college-level courses. But it goes further, with a full schedule of six subjects in 11th and 12th grades, combined with a required 4,000-word essay, for students who opt for such programs.
At South Side High, IB course work is a near-universal experience. This year, all 250 of the school's 11th-graders will be enrolled in an IB "History of the Americas" course -- a class that formerly was optional. One course requirement for students is a 2,000-word essay.
Writing experience is a key to college success, district officials said.
"That's the feedback we get from kids who come back from college -- just how well-prepared they are to write on a college level, and how roommates sometimes find they're not as well-prepared if they did not attend an IB school," said Carol Burris, principal of South Side High.
Not all college-level courses are strictly academic. Long Beach High School, which opened its International Baccalaureate program in 2010, is bringing in a new course this year from Farmingdale State College called "Materials Design and Fabrication in Metal."
Farmingdale State, Molloy College in Rockville Centre and Stony Brook University are expanding high school programs this year.
The metal fabrication course, which starts Wednesday in Long Beach, will use computerized machines donated by Arkwin Industries Inc. of Westbury, a manufacturer of airplane components, to train teens in high-tech production.
Teacher Jim Johnsen said the course's introduction is meant to make a point. "My hope," he said, "is that we can convey to students that there are not only white-collar, but also a large number of good careers in manufacturing and repair, too."