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Arne Duncan Unveils High School Grant Program Details

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will offer more details on the administration's proposed $300 million high school redesign initiative at an event in New York City this morning. The program would dole out competitive grants to school districts in partnership with post-secondary institutions and other organizations, to give high schools a makeover with a career-related and STEM focus.

The goal: To help schools move away from the traditional notion of "seat time" and emphasize the skills that prepare students for post-secondary education and the workforce. The program also would focus on "personalized learning"—a big buzzword in the $400 million Race to the Top competition for school districts.

The $300 million high school redesign program was included in President Obama's most recent budget request, and got a shout-out in his State of Union speech. But it faces long odds in a Congress that's not eager to embrace new spending. Even if the program never comes to fruition, the administration could always incorporate some of these ideas into other competitive grants, so it's worth taking a look at what they're after.

The department wants potential grantees to:

•Provide academic and other support services to students, such as tutoring and mentorships;

•Offer career counseling on post-secondary options;

•Provide "meaningful career-related experiences", such as mentorships and project-based learning experiences developed with folks in the workforce;

•Make better use of learning time, including revamping the school calendar and allowing kids to get credit for mastering certain skills instead of putting a particular number of hours into a subject.

Who is already doing a good job of these things, according to the administration? The first school mentioned on the administration's fact sheet is Manor High School in Texas, which is part of the 100-school New Tech network. The school has partnered with the Texas governor's office and Samsung Semi-Conductor, and gives students the chance to earn college credit and work with mentors in the business community.

Other all-stars include Pathways to Technology Early College High School in New York City (P-TECH), Reynoldsburg High School in Ohio, the High Tech High network based in San Diego, and Loving High School in rural New Mexico.

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