Tag Archives: high school

A Chance to Redefine High School

The trajectory of public education today is one of both progress and stagnation.

On the one hand, more schools are discarding stale practices in favor of approaches grounded in new research about how young people learn today. There has been a proliferation of new tools that can make learning and assessment easier and more engaging. We’ve replaced a controversial federal law with one designed to encourage more flexibility and innovation. Makerspaces, community gardens, and career academies are springing up on public school campuses.

Yet only some students get to benefit from these exciting developments. There are still deep divides in the American education system.

Across the country and even within counties, there are wide funding gaps. The highest poverty districts receive 10 percent less in state and local funding than the most affluent districts, according to The Education Trust.

There are still deep divides in the American education system.
Racial minorities are hit the hardest by the disparities. An analysis by the Center for American Progress found that schools with at least 90 percent students of color spend $733 less per student per year than schools with at least 90 percent white students. Whether lack of funding is the cause of worse educational outcomes for students of color or not, CAP says, it certainly doesn’t help close the gaps. High school graduation rates are rising for all students, but black and Hispanic students’ rates are 73 percent and 76 percent, respectively, compared to white students’ 87 percent.

Amid insufficient resources and funding, there is certainly no shortage of ideas for addressing educational inequalities. That is evidenced by the 700 submissions to a contest that asks applicants to redesign public high school to serve all 21st century learners.

Launched in September 2015, the XQ Super Schools Project will award a total of $50 million to at least five schools. Each school will receive $2 million per year over five years. Applicants had to “reimagine” how a typical high school could better prepare all students for the rapidly changing world they will enter when they graduate, whether they go to college or join the workforce. About half of the applicants were selected to advance to the semifinals, and winners will be announced in August.

How would you reimagine high school?

It is no surprise that three of the semifinal “super schools” are in the Pittsburgh area, where educators are constantly reimagining learning. Each submission taps into local industry and innovation to build opportunities for its student body.

Steel Valley School District, serving old steel mill towns, has taken inspiration from its changing surroundings to imagine a changed campus. The redesigned school will hook students into the community, taking advantage of the skills and knowledge of local residents and organizations, and in turn encouraging graduates to stay and become local leaders. The coursework will be experiential and project-based.

At Environmental Charter School in Pittsburgh, a team has dreamed up Thinking Lab HS. Students there will become engaged, empathetic members of their communities and of civic society. Activism, research, and experience outside the walls of the school are central, and the curriculum focuses on ecological literacy, culture, and health and well-being. Under the guidance of a mentor, students will work on projects in campus studios and labs.

The third semifinalist, Rivers Cubed Academy, is a college and career program for low-income youth. The school will offer academically rigorous courses as well as technical education, preparing students to follow a pathway to higher education or employment. Transportation is provided, so underserved students from multiple districts can enroll. The proposal is the brainchild of Schools That Can, the Remake Learning Network, and others.

The three Pittsburgh submissions represent different valuable approaches to rethinking learning. Two start from scratch, using the modern world as a jumping off point for setting up students for success. A third bolsters an existing institution, supporting educators and families by taking stock of what the entire community has to offer.

Regardless of who ends up in the final five, the ideas put forth by hundreds of teams across the country demonstrate the kind of out-of-the-box thinking our education system can continue to use—and the chunk of funding demonstrates the kind of support it needs.

Fostering Tech Talent in Schools

One way to prepare students for tomorrow’s high tech careers is to put high tech professionals in our schools. That’s just what many tech firms, including Microsoft, are doing. The New York Times reports on the tech giant’s presence in dozens of schools across five states where software engineers spend their mornings volunteering in high school computer science classrooms, helping prepare the next generation of tech innovators.

Nick Wingfield reports in the New York Times:

Leandre Nsabi, a senior at Rainier Beach High School here, received some bluntly practical advice from an instructor recently.

“My teacher said there’s a lot of money to be made in computer science,” Leandre said. “It could be really helpful in the future.”

That teacher, Steven Edouard, knows a few things about the subject. When he is not volunteering as a computer science instructor four days a week, Mr. Edouard works at Microsoft. He is one of 110 engineers from high-tech companies who are part of a Microsoft program aimed at getting high school students hooked on computer science, so they go on to pursue careers in the field.

In doing so, Microsoft is taking an unusual approach to tackling a shortage of computer science graduates – one of the most serious issues facing the technology industry, and a broader challenge for the nation’s economy.

There are likely to be 150,000 computing jobs opening up each year through 2020, according to an analysis of federal forecasts by the Association for Computing Machinery, a professional society for computing researchers. But despite the hoopla around start-up celebrities like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, fewer than 14,000 American students received undergraduate degrees in computer science last year, the Computing Research Association estimates. And the wider job market remains weak.

“People can’t get jobs, and we have jobs that can’t be filled,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel who oversees its philanthropic efforts, said in a recent interview.

Big technology companies have complained for years about a dearth of technical talent, a problem they have tried to solve by lobbying for looser immigration rules to accommodate more foreign engineers and sponsoring tech competitions to encourage student interest in the industry. Google, for one, holds a programming summer camp for incoming ninth graders and underwrites an effort called CS4HS, in which high school teachers sharpen their computer science skills in workshops at local universities.

But Microsoft is sending its employees to the front lines, encouraging them to commit to teaching a high school computer science class for a full school year. Its engineers, who earn a small stipend for their classroom time, are in at least two hourlong classes a week and sometimes as many as five. Schools arrange the classes for first thing in the day to avoid interfering with the schedules of the engineers, who often do not arrive at Microsoft until the late morning.

Read the whole story on The New York Times.

Managing the Un-manageable

Often in childhood education, the question rises as to how to appropriately handle bad behavior in the classroom. From physical outbursts to verbal spewing, teachers are constantly faced with managing the un-manageable students. Jane Ellen Stevens, journalist and founder of Aces Too High, recently wrote about a New Approach to student discipline in her article “Trauma-Sensitive Schools Are Better Schools”.

“Trauma-sensitive schools. Trauma-informed classrooms. Compassionate schools. Safe and supportive schools. All different names to describe a movement that’s taking shape and gaining momentum across the country. And it all boils down to this: Kids who are experiencing the toxic stress of severe and chronic trauma just can’t learn. It’s physiologically impossible.

These kids express their toxic stress by dropping the F-bomb, skipping school, or being the ‘unmotivated’ child, head down on the desk or staring into space. In other words, they’re having typical stress reactions: fight, flight or freeze.

In trauma-sensitive schools, teachers don’t punish a kid for ‘bad’ behavior — they don’t want to traumatize an already traumatized child. They dig deeper to help a child feel safe so that she or he can move out of stress mode, and learn again.”

Jane pulls specific details from schools in Washington and Massachusetts for support, as they’ve implemented school-wide initiatives to adapt this New Approach. Supporting the approach is Susan Cole, director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, a joint project of Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children. She is only one of the many advocates for this New Approach.

“With a school-wide strategy, trauma-sensitive approaches are woven into the school’s daily activities: the classroom, the cafeteria, the halls, buses, the playground. ‘This enables children to feel academically, socially, emotionally and physically safe wherever they go in the school. And when children feel safe, they can calm down and learn,’ says Cole. ‘The district needs to support the individual school to do this work. With the district on board, principals can have the latitude to put this issue on the front burner, where it belongs.’

Many teachers have known for years that trauma interferes with a kid’s ability to learn. But school officials from both states cite two research breakthroughs that provide the evidence and data.

One was the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study). It uncovered a stunning link between childhood trauma and the chronic diseases people develop as adults. This includes heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes and many autoimmune diseases, as well as depression, violence, being a victim of violence, and suicide.

The study’s researchers came up with an ACE score to explain a person’s risk for chronic disease. Think of it as a cholesterol score for childhood toxic stress. You get one point for each type of trauma. The higher your ACE score, the higher your risk of health and social problems.”

To read Jane’s entire article, check out The Huffington Post’s Education section.