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White House Convenes Summit on 'Next Generation' High Schools

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High schools will be in the spotlight here in Washington today, as President Barack Obama convenes the first-ever White House summit on "next generation" high schools.

The daylong event will be a showcase of ideas that Obama has been trumpeting since his 2013 State of the Union address: schools that provide strong academic and career preparation by using time and teaching creatively and focusing on real-world experiences. He's particularly interested in schools that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math.

Students, teachers, business leaders and philanthropists are on the guest list, along with administration luminaries including Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to the president; Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council; Roberto J. Rodríguez, the president's deputy assistant for education; John King, the delegated deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, and Ted Mitchell, the undersecretary of education.

In his fiscal 2016 budget request, Obama asked for $125 million to finance the next-generation high schools program. (See page 6 of the education department budget summary.) 

The Obama administration describes the initiative as a bid to "promote the whole-school transformation of the high school experience in order to provide students with challenging and relevant academic and career-related learning experiences that prepare them to transition to postsecondary education and careers."

The money would be used to award competitive grants to districts to work with colleges, universities or other partners to redesign high schools. The program is particularly interested in STEM-focused designs, especially if they would reach underserved students. Key elements of the program include:

  • Redesigning academic content and instructional practices to align with college and the workplace;
  • Personalizing instruction and wraparound support services;
  • Building "high-quality career and college exploration and counseling services" into schools;
  • Expanding opportunities to earn college credit while students are still in high school;
  • More career-related experiences and project-based learning;
  • New and better ways of using learning time, such as creative uses of technology, competency-based progression for students, or revamped school calendars;
  • Evidence-based professional development for educators.

The prospects for the next-generation high school program don't look rosy at the moment, however. Congress hasn't finished work on its fiscal 2016 spending bills, but according to our Capitol Hill ace Alyson Klein, the program doesn't appear in the versions that the House and Senate appropriations committees have passed.

The Obama administration ran a high school redesign grant competition with Department of Labor money back in 2013. In that contest, 24 winners split $107 million.


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