Sunday, July 6, 2014

Lets Envision a Great 21st Century World-Class High School

    As we consider possible replacement of century old Technical High School, I believe that it is critical that we keep our priorities straight.   If we decide to build a new high school, we must build the foundation for a future century of learning.   The building must therefore house a great 21st Century high school, and our vision of great curriculum,  teaching and learning, is far more important than any debate we might have about the structure and size of the building itself.  Whether the building is made of bricks, concrete, or steel, whether it has one story or three, is less important than whether it houses a great and highly effective school designed to educate all of our young people to their highest potential.  As we move forward with potential building designs, we must maintain a focus on the design the system of high school education that will occur inside the structure, so that it prepares our children for career, civic engagement, and lifelong success.   For this reason, I've collected some resources on systemic high school redesign and reform that capture the growing movement behind high school improvement. You will find below, some links to guidelines designed to help school district think about reformed world class visionary high schools that will meet tomorrow's educational challenges.

    Most of the resources supplied here were provided to me by Andrea Preppernau, District 742 Assistant Director of Research Accountability.  But I've added some resources as well.

    What is behind the movement for high school redesign?   At its core, the high school redesign movement recognizes that there has been a radical shift in the mission statement for American Education.   Fifty years ago, our job market provided decent earning opportunities for high school graduates who were prepared for semi-skilled work, on the assembly line, in mines and manufacturing.  You could graduate high school with limited mathematics, science, and even reading, and still find productive employment that paid a living wage and provided decent benefits.   But in the last half century, the market for semi-skilled employment has shrunk, and it is harder and harder for students with marginal high school records to find employment.   According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 16 of the 20 fastest growing occupations in the state require education beyond high school. To meet this demand, Minnesota will need to increase the rate of students who finish some type of post-secondary education by 50%.

    Fifty years ago, we could view high school as a teaching institution where students would pass or fail, succeed in higher level courses, or become stuck in less challenging courses without intervention.   A teacher might say, I offer this course.  If you get your work done and are capable, you will pass; if you don't, you will fail.    I'm here to provide opportunities, not to assure success.    And in that system, some students thrived, and other students --- even quite capable students --- failed to reach their maximum potential.   Not every teacher approached education in that way, of course.  But systemically, our high schools were designed to deliver opportunities to learn, and students passed or failed, depending upon whether they measured up to the demands of teachers in classrooms.  Many students, even very capable students, dropped out under this system, or found themselves relegated to lower level math, science, reading and writing courses, simply because they got stuck in the lower track, despite unrealized potential.  They got stuck on factoring and couldn't move on.  They missed out on fractions, maybe, or had a curable learning disability that interfered with their ability to read.   They were ill for six months, and found themselves behind, and since the system didn't provide for interventions, they got stuck in a cycle of being behind.   Again, I want to emphasize that in those days, there were many dedicated teachers who reached out to these students, as an individual act of caring.  But few schools in those days, and still today, too few schools provide systemic support for students in the middle and lower quartiles as a matter of certainty.

    Although there are many aspects of the movement to reform today's high schools,  the most important is a systemic redesign that provides support and interventions to students when they start to fall behind, so that every student realizes his or her maximum potential.    In the reformed high school, this doesn't happen simply as an act of individual heroism by a single teacher:  the system is designed into a comprehensive learning community that immediately recognizes when a student is falling behind.  When a student fails to turn in homework, the high school doesn't say, "that's a zero," maybe when you take my course, you will learn from your mistakes and become more responsible."   It says, "in our high school, students do their homework.  Failure is not an option: get your homework done, I'm counting on you to succeed."   When a student comes to 9th grade behind in mathematics, the school identifiies that and immediately develops a plan to catch that student up so that she doesn't fall into a downward spiral of mathematics failure.    

    So that's the end of my sermon:.   I have linked to each of these resources and provided a bit of a teaser so that you might get a sense of what you will find if you follow the line.


The intent of the Systemic High School Redesign: Building a Minnesota Model Framework is to assist high schools in achieving the vision that Minnesota’s investment in education will help all students achieve, at a minimum, a Early Childhood through post-secondary education that will enable them to develop a strong work ethic, gain competitive employment, pursue lifelong learning, become engaged citizens for the 21st century, and enhance their quality of life by providing research-based information and resources to support the five core components of the initiative.

Systemic High School Redesign: Building a Minnesota Model Framework is available online for all high schools to assist with their high school improvement initiatives. The framework lists ideal characteristics of the research-based five core components for high school improvement. For each of the characteristics, the framework provides lists of possible tools to measure these characteristics, potential strategies for implementation, possible resources to explore, and advisor guidance.  

Core components include:
  • Rigorous and relevant course-taking for all students, especially at transition points.
  •  Personalized learning environment for each student, with the support of parents and other adult mentors.
  • Multiple pathways to post secondary training or college to achieve a minimum K-14 education.
  • High-quality teacher and principal leadership.
  • Student assessment and program evaluation data used to continuously improve school climate, organization, management, curricula and instruction.
Systemic High School Design provides a detailed chart with suggested target improvements and progress indicators.
Eight Elements of High School Improvement: A Mapping Framework  (National High School Center)

Research on comprehensive school reform suggests that improvement strategies have the best opportunity for success and sustainability when they take into account the broad array of elements that make up the system being improved. Yet, many current high school improvement initiatives are focused only on specific priority topics (e.g., dropout prevention), specific intervention strategies (e.g., advisories, small schools), or program initiatives (e.g., Check and Connect). Although such approaches can have an important impact, their reach is too frequently limited to a subset of systemic reform elements. Implementing such initiatives may lead to success in addressing specific needs, but the probability of widespread improvement is small when initiatives are implemented in isolation from the broader education systems within which they operate.

This document offers descriptions of the eight elements of high school improvement:

• Rigorous Curriculum and Instruction
• Teacher Effectiveness and Professional Growth
• Stakeholder Engagement
• Organization and Structure
• Assessment and Accountability
• Student and Family Involvement
• Effective Leadership
• Sustainability

The 20 Non-Negotiable Characteristics of Higher Performing School Systems Report, National Center for Educational Achievement (NCEA) | ACT, Inc.

What lessons can we learn from schools and school systems that prepare higher percentages of students for college and careers? ACT’s National Center for Educational Achievement (NCEA) identifies higher performing schools–schools that have greater success at growing students towards college and career readiness than their comparable schools–and studies their practices. NCEA’s research extends across 20 states, 300 districts, and over 550 school systems. The detailed results of this research are organized into NCEA’s Core Practice Framework (see diagram below) and provides educators with guidelines for creating cohesive, aligned systems geared to all students mastering high standards. Rather than reinvent K-12 practices and processes, educators can turn to NCEA’s Core Practice Framework to learn what makes
a higher performing school work, and then apply those core teaching and learning practices to their own systems.

National High School Center Main Website   The National High School Center recognizes that there are a variety of processes that high schools and districts can employ to support high school improvement. Regardless of the specific tools and frameworks that may be used, the Center believes that the six steps of high school improvement illustrated in the School Improvement Process figure provide high schools and districts with a structure to customize their approach to best support high school improvement efforts.

Pathways to Prosperity Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century (by Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard University, 2011)

One of the most fundamental obligations of any society is to prepare its adolescents and young adults to lead productive and prosperous lives as adults. This means preparing all young people with a solid enough foundation of literacy, numeracy, and thinking skills for responsible citizenship, career development, and lifelong learning. For over a century, the United States led the world in equipping its young people with the education they would need to succeed. By the middle of the 19th century, as Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz write in their book, The Race between Education and Technology, “the U.S. already had the most educated youth in the world.” At the turn of the 20th century, just as Europe was catching up, the rapid spread of the “high school movement” helped the U.S. vault ahead again.......Yet as we end the first decade of the 21st century, there are profoundly troubling signs that the U.S. is now failing to meet its obligation to prepare millions of young adults. In an era in which education has never been more important to economic success, the U.S. has fallen behind many other nations in educational attainment and achievement. Within the U.S. economy, there is also growing evidence of a “skills gap” in which many young adults lack the skills and work ethic needed for many jobs that pay a middle-class wage. Simultaneously, there has been a dramatic decline in the ability of adolescents and young adults to find work. Indeed, the percentage of teens and young adults who have jobs is now at the lowest level since World War II.........

Breaking Ranks    The Comprehensive Framework for School Improvement.  (National Association of Secondary Principals)   Fifteen years of advocacy for school reform that seeks to combine all the elements needed to make substantive, sustainable school change that brings improved student performance.  "Regardless of grade level, all schools must address the three core areas of collaborative leadership (CL); personalizing your school environment (PER); and curriculum, instruction, and assessment to improve student performance (CIA). Only by addressing each of these three overlapping areas can improved student performance occur.  At the foundation of this interconnected Breaking Ranks Framework lie nine cornerstones that should guide implementation of improvement initiatives. These are the foundational concepts upon which the Breaking Ranks Framework is built:

Leadership===Professional Development===Culture===Organization===Curriculum===Instruction===Assessment===Relationships===Equity.

College Access Matters -- II  Minnesota Minority Education Partnership   According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 16 of the 20 fastest growing occupations in the state require education beyond high school. To meet this demand, Minnesota will need to increase the rate of students who finish some type of post-secondary education by 50%......Now, as Minnesota’s demographics continue to shift, the overall share of young people in the state with at least a bachelor’s degree is expected to decline. As it currently stands, the percentage of Minnesotans ages 18 to 24 enrolled in college is 9 percent lower for persons of color compared to whites. The racial gap is much higher when it comes to post-secondary graduation rates at four-year institutions. Minnesota’s four-year institutions, for example, have a 16 percent lower graduation rate for all students of color, which breaks out to a discrepancy of 12 percent for African American students and 26 percent for Hispanic students. In order to meet the needs of Minnesota’s workforce and to ensure that students are prepared and equipped to participate in the knowledge economy, action is needed now to boost college enrollment and completion among students of color, beginning with college readiness and access. ......4. School Infrastructure Matters: By building the college access and readiness capacity of school-based staff, including instructional, counseling and support staff more students will have the opportunity to engage with knowledgeable adults regarding the college going process.


  1. I am concerned about systemic identification and support for high achievers, that they be given challenges commensurate with their abilities. They all to often go through high school on cruise control and become complacent, bored, and develop poor or non-existent study habits. They can have a rude awakening in college and are overwhelmed, becoming despondent and full of self doubt. Instead of being the leaders and vanguards of excellence our country needs to move forward they can easily become disillusioned, never reaching their advanced potential. I'm afraid I haven't the time to look over all these plans, but I hope this issue is addressed.

    1. Our two high schools provide the most challenging program for advanced learners of any high schools in the area, by far. I can tell you that from my experience with our three sons. Advanced placement mathematics, chemistry, American history, literature, music theory, art, economics, psychology, biology, physics, European history and many more. Two of my sons received an offer of a full year of advanced placement at one of the nation's most exclusive universities, based on courses taken at Tech.

      In the last ten years, Apollo, which originally had few if any advanced placement courses, has introduced a broad selection equal to those offered at Tech. In addition, under Superintendent Watkins, with strong board of education support, each of our junior high schools started offering honors and other advanced courses that significantly upgraded the challenges offered to junior high students.

      If we want to build on these strengths, however, I believe that we need to broaden the population of students who take advantage of these courses. We need to recruit students from families who don't traditionally get challenged to take these courses. And, we need to challenge more of our students in the middle and lower quartiles to realize their full potential.

      That's the point of introducing the AVID program, that teaches students note-taking, develops a college going culture amongst students in the early grades, promotes a stronger counseling and mentoring system. We know that when we do that, there are lots of students who can take advantage of these challenging courses.


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