‘High school reform is working’

High school reform is working, argue Education Sector analysts in Phi Delta Kappan. Well, that’s the title. They actually seem to be arguing that there are signs it’s starting to work in some places.

The high school reform movement resembles a sprawling 19th-century Russian novel, with dozens of actors and innumerable initiatives. But reformers are focusing primarily on five strategies — improving school climate, strengthening curriculum and instruction, raising graduation requirements, helping freshmen get up to speed academically, and preventing students from dropping out.

At the same time, these reform efforts have been accompanied by an equally ambitious effort to gauge the effectiveness of the reforms. Researchers have conducted a range of studies on the high school reforms of the last half-decade. The results are just now starting to emerge, and they are more promising than many would expect.

Research suggests “real change and real progress are possible, slow and difficult though they may be,” the article concludes. Furthermore, research suggests “more rigorous curricula and tougher graduation standards might not hurt graduation rates and might even help improve them.”

Rigor and relevance are not engaged in a zero-sum tradeoff, but can actually work best in combination. Helping educators become more supportive of students is critical, but doing so produces more significant improvements in student learning when combined with high expectations and rigorous instruction.

Improving elementary schools is child’s play compared to making a dent in middle and high schools.

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  1. Improving elementary schools is also a necessary prerequisite to improving middle and high school. If the kids starting HS don’t know what they should, the HS has very little chance of teaching them that plus the HS courses.

  2. Markm has a point — and that’s part of the problem. Improving high schools involves at least two, probably three, and perhaps more, separate, intractable and often independent (or at least separable) problems.

    First is to improve the high schools to deal with the current group of students.

    Second is to improve the junior high and middle schools so that kids who did well in elementary schools will keep that up and get the background they need for high school. Presently, it appears to many of us, middle schools and junior highs are places where kids lose enthusiasm for learning, and lose a lot of the knowledge they may have once had.

    Third is to improve the high schools to deal with the next group of kids coming from middle schools and junior high schools. This is a different problem from dealing with the current group — dropout prevention is one aspect.

    Fourth is to improve the high schools to deal with students who come prepared.

    Using technology to improve education is a large, so far unfathomed part of the problem. Financing is a major complication.

    Vouchers and tests offer few answers to any of the questions, but seriously complicate any attempt to make progress.

    It’s a mess out there.