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High School Reform..and Its Echoes

High School Reform. Three "big" words that have been mentioned many times, as if on a cresting sine wave over time. Perhaps I am as calloused as this poor attempt at a metaphor suggests.

The prediction is that over the next decade, educators will be inundated by a great number of documents examining the problem (e.g. high drop-out rates, low academic achievment, high failures on state performance assessments), reporting data, and offering solutions. Perhaps the first in this journey is MDRC's Meeting Five Critical Challenges of High School Reform: Lessons From Research on Three Reform Models (May 2006, Free down-load), written by Janet Quint. The three reform models studied were Career Academics, First Things First, and Talent Development, programs that included both urban and rural environments.

Based on the study, five challenges were identified:

  1. Creating a personalized and orderly learning environment
  2. Assisting students who enter high school with low academic skills
  3. Improving instructional content and practice
  4. Preparing students for the world beyond high school
  5. Stimulating change in overstressed high schools
And, the conclusions or suggested reforms:
structural changes to improve personalization and instructional improvement are the twin pillars of high school reform. Small learning communities and and faculty advisory systems can increase students' feeling of connectedness to their teachers. Especially in interaction with one another, extended class periods, special catch-up courses, high-quality curricula, training on these curricula, and efforts to create professional learning communities can imporve student achievement. School-employer partnerships that involve career-awareness activities and work internships can help students.... Furthermore, students who enter ninth grade facing substantial academic deficits can make good progress if initiatives single them out for special support. These supports include caring teachers and special courses designed to help entering ninth-graders acquire the content knowledge and learning skills that they missed out on in earlier grades>
My concerns? First, most high school teachers, if asked, probably could have written the conclusions or identified the suggested reforms. And second, the amount of money spent on writing this report...the money could have had a greater impact if used to fund a large cadre of multiple caring teachers.