Recommendations for successful high school reform

A few more thoughts from the same articles on high school reform:

National high school reform efforts have merely “propped up an antiquated system instead of rethinking and repairing it” (Wise, 2008, p. 10).

What preliminary recommendations have emerged from those reform efforts of the high school experience that appear to be successful?

1. Align what schools expect of students with the demands of college and the workforce. Research by ACT (American College Testing) suggests that the skills needed for work readiness mirrors those needed for college readiness.  As a result, we need to set common, high expectations and a common set of standards for students to acquire the knowledge and skills that will lead to post high-school success whether they attend college or enter the workplace.

2. Offer a rigorous, option-rich curriculum in order to personalize learning. As we set high standards for learning and share our expectations that our students can attain them, we need to develop and offer a rich curricular experience that allows students to personalize their own learning in response. Such an experience should be option-rich so that students can explore and learn across disciplines.

3. Support learning. Schools, then, need to provide the necessary advising and support programs to ensure student success. This includes offering smaller learning environments, fostering long-term relationships among faculty and students, and creating advisory systems to ensure needed academic and personal support for the student, the family and other teachers that the student encounters. This will require smaller class sizes and providing teachers with more time to teach their students by tailoring instruction to their strengths, needs, background, experience and interest.

4. Improve instruction by mining data and using digital technologies. In order for teachers to better serve their students, they need to know how to inquire and reflect on their instructional effectiveness as it positively impacts student learning. Teachers need to know how to make informed pedagogical decisions based on data as they help personalize the learning experience of their students. Teachers need to know how to support classroom instruction through the use of appropriate technologies and best practices.

5. Professional and Collaborative Learning. In order for teachers to better serve their students, they need considerable time to plan, collaborate and learn from each other. This time should be allocated on an at least weekly, if not daily, basis and also include sufficient learning in-service days during the year. Teachers should meet regularly in grade-level groups and in discipline-specific groups to engage in focused inquiry on problems of practice.


Darling-Hammond, L. & Friedlaender, D. (2008). Creating excellent and equitable schools. Educational Leadership, 65(8); 14-21.

Wise, B. (2008, May). High schools at the tipping point. Educational Leadership, 65(8); 8-13.

Going to high school: A moral and economic imperative

A few thoughts as I reviewed some articles on high school reform:

As a society we need to acknowledge that all students have a right to a high-quality secondary school education that will prepare them to meet the challenges they will face upon graduation. This is especially important in today’s knowledge-based economy where essential 21st century skills for success need to be developed in school. I admit that I still need to fully understand what most educators would agree regarding this set of skills, and I look forward to learning more. In any case, high school students should feel equipped and confident for either continued study in college or entering the workforce after grade 12.

Unfortunately, it is becoming evident to me that today’s high schools are not necessarily designed with this in mind.  Most high school experiences have been designed for a different era. They follow what has been coined as “the 20th century factory model” (Darling-Hammond & Friedlaender, 2008, p. 14). At the beginning of the 20th century approximately 10% of high school-aged students actually went to school. This was a luxury for a choice few. Today, attendance laws require all high school-aged students be in the classroom or be held accountable for their time. As a result, the high school has developed in a manner that typically processes as many students as possible. This model favors size and efficiency over relationship (Darling-Hammond & Friedlaender, 2008). Students are gathered in relatively large class sizes, they attend multiple classes in a day and are taught by multiple teachers, many of whom rarely have the opportunity to collaborate effectively with their colleagues over instructional improvement and best practices. To me, the typical US high school is too large and impersonal.  My opportunities to visit high schools in the Puget Sound have left me thinking that they are detached communities filled with many students who are not necessarily engaged and interested in learning.

In the light of greater global economic competition and any related demands from the workplace, our schools need to help students meet the new requirements of the 21st century. Wise (2008) rightly describes this as a “moral and economic imperative” (p. 9) for us to address. I believe that society expects our students to be ready for the challenges they will face upon graduation. They want students to be well-prepared to be active contributors in the global community. Parents expect more from our high schools  for their children. They want to know that their children are prepared and able to lead productive lives. Students want to be engaged and can be motivated to learn more. Perhaps the current model of high school needs to change in order to meet these expectations in light of this new reality.


Darling-Hammond, L. & Friedlaender, D. (2008). Creating excellent and equitable schools. Educational Leadership, 65(8); 14-21.

Wise, B. (2008, May). High schools at the tipping point. Educational Leadership, 65(8); 8-13.