What Do You Think?
Schools For a New Society and The Carnegie foundation Look at High School Reform
Tying reform to values could be beneficial for all students...then again, this policy may not be the best, and it's all in the implementation.
High School Redesign
VUE Number 8, Summer 2005
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Redesigning High School: Whole Systems That Work for All Students
By Robert Rothman
Robert Rothman is a principal associate at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and editor of Voices in Urban Education.
High schools are now the hot topic in education reform. The nation's governors and business leaders held a well-publicized "summit" on high schools in February. President Bush has declared high schools his top education priority. And dozens of school districts, fueled by foundation funds, have been hard at work creating new high schools and breaking up existing ones.
The reasons for the new attention on high schools are not hard to find. Data from national and international assessments continue to show that the academic achievement of high school students lags behind that of students from other countries and that large numbers of high school graduates are ill prepared for college or work. Graduation rates are alarmingly low in many cities. And reports from students make it clear that many large high schools are soulless places that fail to engage young people in academic study or the school community. Clearly, high schools are not working for too many young people.
What should replace them? The answer is not as simple as the rhetoric might suggest. Redesigning high schools so that they work effectively for all students takes more than changing a few schools, as difficult as that might be. It requires developing a system that ensures that every young person has an opportunity to pursue an engaging learning experience. Creating such a system requires careful planning by district leaders to ensure that a supply of schools matches student needs. It takes a policy environment that supports diverse learning environments. It takes a deliberate effort to build communities within schools that support students. It takes a different approach to instruction that recognizes the learning challenges many young adolescents face and what it will take to accelerate their achievement. And, above all, it takes efforts to engage students to understand their needs and help them develop solutions.
None of these tasks are easy. And they are particularly challenging in a political environment that makes any kind of change in high schools difficult. While reformers may agree that high schools are not working, many parents and community members particularly those who were successful in high school do not share that view. They may be reluctant to give up features of large schools that they recall with fondness.
This issue of Voices in Urban Education looks at the many facets of high school redesign and considers what it will take to bring about whole systems of schools that work for all young people.
Constancia Warren and Mindy Hernandez lay out a vision of "portfolios" of schools that provide diverse learning environments to match student needs, while maintaining standards of excellence for all.Full text with audio clips
Francine Joselowsky makes the case for including youth voices in high school redesign and provides examples of successful efforts to engage youths in reform.
Rosanna Castro offers her own experience as evidence of the way high schools can be alienating to youths of color.
John DeVore describes efforts by the San Diego City Schools to tackle instructional improvement in high schools.
Alethea Frazier Raynor considers ways to build true small learning "communities" in redesigned high schools.
S. Paul Reville outlines a design for an accountability system that supports redesigned high schools.
While the authors' perspectives are different, they are all grounded in reality. All of the authors are involved in some way with Schools for a New Society, an initiative of Carnegie Corporation of New York aimed at redesigning high schools in seven cities. The Annenberg Institute for School Reform is part of the technical assistance team for the initiative.
The SNS work demonstrates the challenging nature of high school redesign as well as its enormous potential for helping to improve opportunities for millions of young people. The work also shows that high school redesign is not an event; rather, it is a continual process. Constancia Warren and Mindy Hernandez note that staying true to the values underlying the redesign will offer the best hope of reaping the rewards and minimizing the risks. Measuring results against those values will help ensure that high school redesign is not just another reform fad, but a lasting monument to improved education.
Schools For a New Society