2016 Professional Learning Institute

OnRamps partners with 151 new teachers to advance quality of education in Texas

By Amanda Voeller

OnRamps kicked off its fourth formal Professional Learning Institute Monday morning with 151 instructors hailing from 57 districts across Texas. The two-week professional learning institute at The University of Texas at Austin will prepare teachers to lead their students through OnRamps dual-enrollment courses by deepening these teachers’ content knowledge and training them in college-aligned pedagogy.

“I'm most excited to see how thrilled so many teachers are to be here and to be part of the program,” OnRamps director Dr. Julie Schell said. “I heard one story from teachers from Vidor ISD who told me they had been advocating since January to see the program on their campus. It is inspiring to hear that new teachers from all over the state are learning about the program and championing for it within their schools.”

This year’s instructors have 879 years of combined teaching experience. At a breakfast to welcome the instructors, Dr. Harrison Keller, OnRamps Founder and Deputy to the President for Strategy and Policy, highlighted the importance of the network of educational innovators that OnRamps teachers are forming across Texas.

“Networks such as this are powerful,” Keller said. “They can help overcome many of the educational problems we are facing.”

Dr. Keller emphasized that the spirit of OnRamps includes deep partnerships with secondary teachers. OnRamps Instructors are officially appointed as affiliates of The University of Texas at Austin and receive faculty and staff privileges.

Only 15.9 percent of Texas students complete high school within four years, continue directly to college and complete college within six years, but OnRamps aims to boost this number. Dr. Julie Schell said that low percentage stems from two reasons.

“First, the cost of higher education is rising and continues to do so,” Schell said. “OnRamps provides students with the opportunity to earn transferable, core college credits at a dramatically reduced cost. Right now, there is no cost for students or their families, including no textbook fees.”

Schell said the second reason for low college success rates has to do with the huge differences in academic expectations between high school and college.

“There is a substantial gap between what students need to do to succeed in high school and what it takes to thrive in college,” Schell said. “By giving students the opportunity to experience college content, pedagogy, and technology-enhanced education early, we are working to align these expectations so students aren't shocked at the level of rigor and challenge when they get to a college campus.”

Students who take at least one dual-enrollment course are twice as likely to complete college when compared to students who don’t. This is because these courses engage students in college-level work, preparing them for the transition from high school.

Dr. Jennifer Porter, Professional Development and Research Coordinator for OnRamps, is leading the event and the professional learning experience for the 151 new and over 65 returnning teachers. During the 2016-2017 school year, around 6,000 students will participate in OnRamps courses and benefit from the hard-working high school teachers who are attending the institute this summer. Dr. Porter inspired the network of education innovators by recognizing, when considering all the courses they teach, this year alone 18,000 students will be taught by an instructor participating in the OnRamps program. “This level of scale has incredible opportunity to positively impact our public education system in important ways,” said Porter.

“Students definitely emphasize that the opportunity to earn free college credit is important, but by and large their favorite thing is their teachers,” Schell said. “That's another key feature of OnRamps. Because of our dual-enrollment model, students get to experience college before college with the support of their local high school teachers, friends, and families.”

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