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.