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Revamping High Schools

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A flurry of recent reports show that America's high schools are stagnating, and more educators are joining the drive for change. As part of his second term education agenda, President Bush is calling for extending the testing and accountability provisions of No Child Left Behind to older students.

But there is little consensus over the best ways to overhaul the system. And past reformers have had difficulty wading through the social, bureaucratic, and political challenges unique to secondary education.

Is high school reform overdue? What can be done to fix the nation's high schools? What is standing in the way of change?

66 Comments

Rebuilding literacy in America's high schools is a daunting challenge; it can be done, but it requires leaders whose first-line priorities include literacy. Statistics tell the tale; in many of the nation's high schools, functional illiteracy is rampant. The problem must be addressed -- with adequate time, materials, administrative support, and teacher training (secondary teachers are not typically prepared to teach literacy). Until a school or district chooses to intervene seriously, low-functioning students will remain unable to read texts or to write assignments independently. The old band-aids, such as asking all teachers to be reading teachers, placing more books in a library, or 'exposing' students to literature and language, are grossly inadequate. In schools districts where reading and language scores have significantly increased, one constant is present: the recognition that this is hard work, and that it takes a long-range plan, using materials already proven -- by independent research -- in other districts.

High schools are no different than schooling at any other levels. They surely can be fixed. One approach is to launch a series of intensive studies to identify the key features and characteristics of these communities of learners, which most deifintely includes the students and the educators that manage the schools and the schooling process. The goal should be to determine what these communities look like in 2005, not what it looked like in 2000 or 1998 and not solely to look at achievement scores as the foundation of the deluded idea that, that information is equivalent to knowing what high schools are like. It is very difficult to accept the pronouncements that underlie the current debate, all without one iota of an informed idea regarding what these communities are like and how they operate. This knowldege should be fundamental to other studies to determine how to fix whatever we understand to be a problem.
Thanks.

High School revamping -- nothing new. It seems just over the past six years there has been one new initiative after another, i.e., small learning communities, academies, four mod day, etc. All the while, working to support the struggling learner and maintaining the status quo with everyone else.

If there is one area that high schools need to address it is the notion that "some children" cannot learn. I firmly believe, provided appropriate curriculum and appropriate instruction, "all children" can learn. We must establish high expectations for "all children" and get parent support. When students are pushed beyond what they feel they can do, they will achieve at much high levels than ever before.
It is imperative that teachers of advanced courses understand and provide the opportunity for any child to make an attempt at completing the course. It is the teachers responsibility to afford appropriate instructional delivery regardless where the student comes from.

You see, we talk about subgroup results. The real issue, as I see it is that we have simply two subgroups. One subgroup is that student body educators feel can learn and that group of students educators feel can just get by.

When we realize that high school teachers teach students "not just content" we will see great gains in student performance across the board.

As with so many things in life, if someone had discovered the real solution to this problem by now, we would all know about it.

But thanks for the opportunity to express an opinion.

While I have not the credentials of others who have commented, I thought I would throw in my opinion. Several years ago, I read Horace's School and found it quite compelling. Giving students who are not on the college track real training in a trade they could pursue after graduation would be of great benefit, I believe. Why make everyone satisfy the same requirements for graduation? I think when you provide "real life" training and education, it may change attitudes among the disaffected high school population. Students would see that their studies were relevant to the real world.

While some students may have difficulty in satisfying some graduation reqirements- They certainly must be schooled on a spectrum with repeated emphasis on the basics. How many people at 16-18 know what they want to do after graduation. I agree they need "real life" training and education-but be sure they have a solid background to build on- they don't know whether they will be attending college many times or not- they just don't see that their may be changes in their life plans that will cause them to have to draw on this knowledge base of their school days. Students must have a solid basics- that's why there is is such strict adherence to graduation requirements.

Fixing our high schools has nothing to do with increasing standardized testing. The system basically identifies students that need remediation, most of which the classroom teacher could identify before the assessment, and then not providing funding in which to provide that remediation.

The majority of accountability is being placed on the public school teacher in the classroom. To truly reform high schools this accountability needs to be transferred. We need systemic change that focuses on student accountability for learning. If standardized tests are the measure, they need to be tied to promotion and graduation before they will become relevant to students, parents and communities.

However, what are we really measuring? From a statistical standpoint there is an lack of validity in the testing system. Each state develops its own assessments and many times tests are not the same from year to year. Comparisons for adequate yearly progress are made in which 2004's 9th graders are compared to 2005's 9th graders and "improvement" is based on the scores from two entirely different statistical samples on two different assessments. The results really mean little concerning school improvmement.

If reform is to take place and assessments be the avenue in which it is measured, these assessments must be nationally standardized where each high school student in each state takes the same series of tests and those tests are vertically equated so that an individual student's progress can be tracked.

A final issue is for a realization to be made that not every student is college prep and that every student is not capable of reading at grade level. A student with an IQ in the 80's will not read at the 12th grade level regardless of interventions and in many instances may not qualify for those interventions.

Tests do not reform schools, they place greater financial burdens on them and make test manufacturing and test prep development companies the major beneficiaries.

There are key questions we must answer concerning not only reform efforts at the high school level but at all levels of public education. The first of these are,(a)what are the hidden goals of NCLB, are they to reform public school systems or destroy them in favor of a voucher system? As well as the key question were high schools broken in the first place?

Parents need to be held accountable for providing
a structured and stable home life where education and scholastic achievement is a high
priority. Untill american society changes and parents pratice good parenting skills, no law or change in educational policies will solve this crisis. How can I effectively educate a child who at 3 am just put a drunk parent to bed?

In our "politically correct" litigious society there is little room for authenticity in the classroom and people everywhere are afraid to be human. It is impossible to engage students without offending someone. Fear is driving the country as Americans spend billions on war , but have no money for health, education and welfare.
When I was in highschool a teacher was fired for reading Tyrannus Nix by Ferlinghetti.His students were engaged; he was terminated. Have you read a text book lately? Everything is so bland , no one has a taste for it.

Re-vamping not fixing high schools would be my saying what could be accomplished. It starts with how we graduate students namely based upon credits- credits that are given based upon completion of time in a class. The best way of revamping high schools would be giving credits to a student if he or she passes an assessment (not test) of mastery of math, language arts, social studies, science, art history, etc. Some students would be able to pass a pre-assessment. They should be given the credit without taking the class. This would free them to take other advanced placement courses, graduate early (thus go to post-secondary) or take other classes such as music, band, art, etc. I know this would be a drastic change in how students graduate. I know some segments of society would declare inequality. Equality should not be issue as all students would have this option. This also recognizes not all students are the same but as is true of society - we are all different.

Yes, high schools can, and need, to be changed. But it is a long term, committed pursuit that can't be abandoned because too many people (teachers, parents, students, administrators) complain. These students must be treated as real students with teachers doing the guiding, directing and teaching. Classes must be longer than 45 or 50 minutes so that real interaction between teacher-student and student-student can occur. (Not a class with 20 minutes of instruction and the remainder of the time worktime with the thought that "these kids can't handle 90 minutes of instruction".) Look at elementary or middle school with self-contained classes for at least part of the day so that teachers get to know their students. And yes, smaller groups such as "teaming" allow teachers to take responsibility for their students. (Not to do the learning for them, but to offer multiple opportunities to learn the materials.)
Having been in the high school position as both a principal and THEN as a teacher, I know first hand the battles to make changes. Having students participate in their learning (rather than being taught AT
) is a monster undertaking and the students, as well as others, balk at the change. Ultimately, many of them begin to see that they are learning more and maybe even enjoying it.

I am surprised that no one has noted the dearth of good leadership as a cause of failing high schools. Sadly, the leadership degree is the easiest one to earn, and in practice, the principles of leadership consistently give way to political pressure. Our schools will improve instantly when leaders concern themselves as much with student achievement as they do with winning a state championship or pleasing wealthy, influential, or irrational parents. When the burden of improving student achievement falls heaviest on the shoulders of classroom teachers, who work without administrative support, I understand why many of them live in survival mode, hesitant to challenge students for fear of being condemned. Leaders who nurture exemplary teachers and encourage high expectations of students can transform their schools overnight. When student achievement truly becomes the top priority of leadership, we will know it!

When we are discussing school improvement, we are really discussing student improvement. I believe the missing element to this student improvement remains home. The parents, just as the student, must feel a sense of necessity to push for improvement. The schools are remediation and remediation and remediation and the averages fluctuate from class year to class year. A celebrated rise is scores from a strong class brings celebration, but the following year or years again focuses a negative impression that the school has slacked off the vision.
Just as you cannot improve a school with out complete buy-in by teachers, you can't improve students' academically without family and student buy-in. It may need something radical such as charging parents for repeated courses. The taxpayers pick up the tab on the first round, but the second falls financially upon the parents. Add some incentive, something to put an urgency to succeed back into the equation.

I am disappointed that in a seven-page article, there was no emphasis on teaching -- that is, how we teach -- or as Webster defines it how we "cause a student to know." Over the past few years, the complicated initiatives, mandates, studies, and reports have not allowed us to go forward in education. We are still writing lengthy articles on what has not been done.

I believe the solution is quite simple. We have to TEACH. That means that every teacher must first examine their own belief system to determine whether they truly believe that all students can learn. The problem is not necessarily a teacher's knowledge of subject matter, but rather in how they communicate (express their ideas effectively) so that the concepts are absorbed, retained and applied.

We need to teach the teacher to be more effective. If more emphasis were given to providing teachers with simple strategies and methods that work, the result could possibly be "no child left behind."

This does not mean throwing more money at the problem. It means taking advantage of our most important investment -- our teachers -- and making sure they are well equipped to teach. (They are few college education programs today that focus on successful teaching techniques.) We need more college and professional development training that imparts this wisdom.

I can only offer a perspective on the relationship between "at-risk" students and the local community or neighborhood. Effective teachers and administrators should take the time to understand their local community -- intimately. By this, I mean a real attempt to understand the daily life of a student and their family. For example, do you understand the challenges of a high school student that is living on their own -- what adjustments have you made in your educational system for these students? Can they accrue partial credits for graduation? How about online courses for credit? Are you willing to allow high school students flexible hours for school (i.e. have evening or weekend classes? Can they gain credit for work experience? Is there transitional housing for those under 18 in your area? Are there school case managers or social workers available to help them? Is the "traditional" high school even working for your students any more? Many high schools are trying to help students achieve, but the student and their family are drowning in social or other issues -- even in historically "stable" communities. With communities and neighborhoods changing so fast, an intimate understanding of their ecology is critical to reforming high schools.

NCLB started with elementary schools the proper place to teach all children to read before passing them on.
It will therefore take 12 years. Only 9 more years left of poor graduation rates and prison facilities teaching the 89% of their guests how to read.
All high schools in our district have 10 football coaches and 1-½ music instructors as demanded by parents. We need parental education to get the job done.

A near majority of students in urban, suburban and rural schools are deeply disengaged from learning according to Robet Blum. This is particularlly true in High Schools. We must help students find meaning and purpose in what they are learning in school. The Coalition for Community SChools believes that issues and challenges in students’ own communitiesprovide a natural context for learning that matters to children and youth. Service learning, environmental education, place-based learning, civic education, and work-based learning are all learning strategies with a community-focus. This work incorporates the broad principles of youth development, educational standards, and collaborative, community-based learning. It makes young people resources for their communiteis and wil help them succeed. The solution to the high school problems will not be found within the four walls of the traditional school.

The Coaliion for Community Schools will be issuing a paper that represents work in all of these areas later this year.

Martin Blank
[email protected]


The decline in High School performance has been happening for many years. Why are we surprised? It is also more complex than targeting one area. In many of our schools we have students who have not really seen the importance of education and literacy modeled from parents or the media. Remember the old days when many fathers and mothers would be seen reading the newspaper or books? In many homes today you would be hardpressed to find classics in a "read-friendly" area, tempting people to pull them off the shelf and delve into exploring the stories. Lack of vocabulary today often points to the lack of exposure to areas or items which might stretch us.
When was the last time you saw any news items from the media targeting those "models" who are great readers and writers, as well as athletes? As long as we push money, career, and fame at the expense of everything else we can expect youth (and parents) to focus on anything but being literate. The use of literary concepts, as well as the use of higher order thinking skills, needs to be evident in all aspects of life if we expect our youth to value it. Talk is cheap!
Unfortunately, some may use portions of technology today to encourage "laziness" for deeper thinking, and some schools even promote poor practices with technology. This would include "cutting and pasting" whole articles from the internet, rather than personal writing. Plagiarism is a very common practice, and many of our young people don't even know what that term means. Developing your own ideas, getting past rough drafts, and continuing the process through to produce a good finished product is becoming rare. It requires time and patience.
Universities must provide future teachers with the skills and concepts necessary to become good teachers after graduation. Of course, on-the-job training is a part of the process, but many higher education facilities have not prepared students for the real world of teaching. Elementary school certificated personnel often have not really been given the opportunity of taking classes in all areas of education. These people then often shy away from teaching much about these subjects or integrating them into the rest of the curriculum. Thus, the student who had little exposure to science in grade school continues on to high school with little knowledge and perhaps a fear of inadequacy when he/she reaches required classes. Everyone suffers.
Finally, the child must determine that resiliency is valuable and necessary. This means that no one in the real world will hand you everything or pick you up when life is not to your liking. You may or may not be thrilled about taking math in middle school, but it is necessary. After you have waded through required backgrounds, you have some choices. The choices should never include go to class or play ball. I have had the unpleasant experience of working in several classrooms where the teacher(also a coach) was only interested in athletic ability and your grade was determined by your participation in sports. Unfortunately, this was the attitude of most of the parents. When real academic scholarships become as important as athletic scholarships, the country will know that academics are important.
I do believe that attaining the basics in the younger grades means that students in high school may have some options. I find value in providing a certain degree of subject relevance to students in their particular area. For instance, I still believe that students who desire to continue on to trade school will particularly benefit from English courses geared toward Business Education. I thought some schools did a much better job years ago in helping students to discover their interests for the future and still get in all of the basics. Call it tracking if you like, we had very few drop out and our enrollment was 2500 students. The tracks did require math, English, reading, writing, etc. in any track. It was streamlined, however, to various topics. Math questions make a lot more sense when they are tied to your interests.
As students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the general community begin to believe that a solid academic education is important to the welfare of the family and the country, perhaps a vision for learning will become important also.
Why not partner with the media to promote scientists, and others who get very little attention in these types of areas, to do weekly positive presentations in prime time? I'll be waiting and watching.

Yes but you must start teaching in Kindergarten.

As long as WL type reading and guessing is taught before PA Students will be confused and struggle in all grades.

Hicks,
After reading several entries, one stood out, that by a fellow teacher and parent. "How can you educate a child who just put a drunk parent to bed at 3 am?

You show them that despite thier situation, you believe in them and you expect of them just as you would expect of a child who's loving parents just put them to bed at 8pm.
Society did not reach the state it is in overnigh. Research supports the correlation between schools and thier communities, so unless we dismiss all excuses and factors that we cannot control such as home enviroment and start working with what we do have(youth that have a lot to offer, dispite their challenging socialeconomic status) it will be difficult to improve our society.

More high-stakes testing requirments is definetly not the answer. As suggested, we must go outside the box which has been created.

Someone mentioned the use of media, to promote professions, and fields of study, I am all for that. Check out the North Dakota Study Group, who will be having a discussion on this topic. NDSG.org

It is encouraging to see so many thoughtful responses here.

I think we can do a lot more to help at-risk students. There are many excellent initiatives for smaller, more personal and caring student-centered learning environments (alternative schools, schools within schools, theme schools, etc) that offer kids the kinds of support they need to succeed. This requires more professionally trained staff and realistic expectations that such change takes time, committment and resources (yes, funding).

Since the vast majority of school districts do not have extra resources to implement such programs, most at-risk students still do not have access to proven interventions. These kids are get left behind every day all across our nation. We let them quit trying and dropout and then we build more prisons.

Last year, the funding for drop-out prevention programs was cut from the Federal education budget. Apparently, it was okay to leave these kids behind... or at least that's the clear message.

Before adding new mandates and requirements, the President needs to make good on fully funding the NCLB requirements we have now.

Do High Schools need to be fixed? Are they broken? High Schools need to be transformed to meet the societal needs that have been placed on public education. High Stakes testing and NCLB, two opponents of what education is and should be about. Schools should be providing students opportunities to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and have the ability to use these skills in practical applications of real life. Students should be challenged, the bar must be raised, but without parental involvement, the point is irrelevant. I feel the key for success is the parent. Without that component to education, we are fighting an uphill battle.

Outstanding and dedicated career educators have had to grow a covering of "hard bark" through the years to withstand the continual assaults on their competency. After reading this article and its clones, it becomes difficult to believe that public high schools make any redeeming contributions to their communities. My standard answer to the constant criticism and calls for reform has been to suggest that high schools have a very reasonable record of accomplishments. My guess is that you graduated from a public high school as did your doctor, attorney, mayor, carpenter, auto mechanic and insurance agent. Room for improvement will always exist, but in my 31 years as an educator I have witnessed many,many successes by students and teachers. I realize certain school districts need help, but the problem with schools is not as critical as we are being led to believe.

As the leader of a comprehensive public high school I have read with great interest the many comments so far. Several great points and insights.

First, the American High School is not broken. Our expectations of it have changed, but we havent changed the model and what we are doing. So it is not broken, but out os step. Having said that, if we don't change, or tansform it (as someone stated), it may not survive.

We have worked very hard over the last three years at my school to "transform" it. In short, we have used a combination of several accepted strategies to personalize student learning. The result is a student body that has ownership over their education, and a faculty that is focused on teaching. Over the last three years, ALL of our student performance measures (state standardized tests especially), have increased measurably as well. This is not a rags to riches success story, but just an example of what can be done when you bring sharp focus to the mission at hand and get everyone on board. We have been designated a "high performing" high school by the state board of education (each of the last 3 years) and are now constantly being visited by other schools and districts.

That sounds great, but unfortunatley, that is not enough. In my mind we will not truly enact educational change until we break several "longstanding" "traditional" practices. First, we cannot have the impact on teaching in the classroom that we really need until we do away with tenure. An ineffective teacher needs to be canned immediately. Students do not have the time to lose. Second, when are we going to realize that proficiency should be the measure (not time in the seat, or credits as was noted earlier). We could really do some things if moevment between grade levels or courses was much more fluid. Third, when are we going to realize that we are no longer an agrarian society and no longer need the summer off to help with the harvest? We are constantly being asked to cram more in to the student calendar that hasn't changed for 50 years (and in some states is shorter than previous years).

The last point is a great segue to my final comment. Literacy seems to be the focus. The public schools are being blamed for poor reading test scores and other measures of reading proficiency and literacy. As was noted earlier, the way we conduct business hasn't changed much (aside from the experiment with whole language). We effectively taught reading before (didn't we)? Why are we "failing" at it now? Because school is the only place kids read now. As was mentioned ealrier, no one reads outside of school. Why should we be surprised that our students do not read well? They do not read at home. They used to. Their parents used to. I used to. The bulk of the literature on reading imrovement has a simple theme - students have to read more. Someone mentioned that high school teachers have not been trained to teach literacy (reading or writing). Well, before they didn't need to be. However, you and I both know that society is probably not going to change and suddenly embrace the written word again, so it will be up to the educators to do it. But until we break out of some of those standard practices we will not meet the increased expectations.

I think I have rambled enough and look forward to reading some more comments.

I have two granddaughters, ages 11 and 10, both of whom will be entering junior and senior high all to quickly. The teachers in these schools lack degrees or even majors in mathematics, physics and chemistry. Their math teachers were certified by a test rather than coursework. The physics and chemistry teachers were certified as "comprehensive science teachers," and have only introductory courses in physics and chemistry.

My question is: Why can't the schools partner with community colleges/universities to deliver the course content of math, physic and chemistry via on-line or DVD courses? We have many excellent teachers who perform most of the teaching functions very well, but lack content background in the subjects they teach. On-line delivery of the content would enable teachers to perform the other teaching functions and enable students learn the content. Why wouldn't this work.

The ideal would be to have teachers with degrees in mathematics, physics and chemistry teaching those subjects, but this is never going to happen because of the salary differential between the public and private sector.

I agree that high schools (actually all levels of education) should be rigorous. But adding another test does not assure rigor. With the NCLB tests, end-of-course tests, PLAN, ACT, SAT, etc. testing at the high school level takes lots of time. Since the ACT and SAT tests are rigorous could a score for graduation be set and the rigor increase at the high school level. In the process of redesigning secondary education the handicapped students need to be kept in mind. Yes I think every child can learn, including the special education students. I am very upset by the NCLB guidelines for graduation rate. Handicapped students will receive a special education diploma and be counted as a dropout. This is a sin and abuse to thses students and their parents.

A key to start fixing education is to develope programs and a schoolwide attitude to encourage students to take ownership in their education.We need to show them what the future can hold when they choose to take advantage of all that a school has to offer.I know from personal experience that I am more comfortable "where I feel wanted" than "I am here because I have to be here"! Though they must choose the required courses for graduation, this can be empowering for them that this is their choice and they need to support it.

I fear we are going to see a repeat of "A Nation at Risk" when the push was to "fix" high schools.
Has anyone considered the fact that we might be trying to work on the wrong end of the continuum.
Full support for pre-school, full day kindergarten and small primary classes with just in time intervention would make a world of difference when students entered high school. I am not saying that we don't need to address high school issues, but we need to take a systemic view, not a fragmented one. Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.

Let us begin by understanding that parents send us the best kids they have. We work with the best staff we can afford be they teachers, counselors or administrators. Each of these people have the best materials we can provide based on our budgets and the quality of materials produced by those that earn their profit from selling us those materials.

With this as our base, we must make learning worthwhile, quality laden and most importantly, fun! We cannot turn our students off to school/learning because when they finally get ready to learn their past experience must have been a good one so they are willing to return to school and learn.

I have often wondered if our turn out at open house is small because the original experience for parents, when they were students,in school was not positive.

High schools have to operate in a different way, and high teachers have to operate differently.

High schools should consist of classrooms that are learning centers--students coming and going as needed--not lecture rooms. A visitor to the high school should see student/teacher or student/student/students engagement of all types all over the building. Students should be coming and going to the media center and to open computer labs throughout the day.

High school teachers need to get off the pedestol (the "sage on the stage") and become what they were meant to be--facilitators of learning. They should be "working the room," setting up field trips, orchestrating web searches, and more. They should not do all the work--preparation, researching, grading, disciplining--the students should do the most work in order to learn.

Facilitation is not easy, but it can be done and done successfully. The teacher must know the subject matter "upside down and backward" and be fluent and fluid and also have an openness and a willingness to let students explore by doing projects/assignments which support the core of the curricular subject/area.

High school teachers should team with other departmental teachers and with other curricular colleagues to offer group presentations, to work closely with specific groups on specific needs or projects.

High students need engagement/ownership/participation and a variety of relevant learning activities to keep them attentive and motivated. Therefore, teachers need to vary their teaching methods and their assessment tools. They may need to vary these methods or assessment tools for different students because not everyone learns/responds in the same way.

Students should not repeat a class. It makes no sense whatsoever for students to start the same class over and over and over again at the beginning when they fail or withdraw (whatever the reason). It is a vicious cycle that is demoralizing to students and to teachers. Students should be assessed (preferably before entering the high school) to determine their skill levels for language arts, reading, mathematics, social studies, p.e., whatever is needed in order to properly place them in situations where they can apply what they already know as well as to learn new things. If no documentation is available, as when a student transfers in, an assessment should be given to determine proper placement. It may be appropriate and necessary for the guidance department to check with the state department on scores. Some how, some way, assessment of some type needs to occur to do what is best for the student.

When remediation is deemed necessary for a student, it should address the problem area/s and not every single area in that category. It penalizes the student and ties up teacher/student remediation time unnecessarily when a student is being remediated for a skill level already attained. It also causes the student to lose focus and therefore lose hope.

High schools need to address emotional intelligence issues and behavior disorders and attendance issues--many of which are related. Many of these students, though high school age, are not emotionally mature enough to operate in the traditional high school setting. Very intelligent students are not performing well because their emotional intelligence is stunting their growth.

High schools need to help students develop as ethically and financially sound citizens and human beings who know they have value and meaning in the United States while appreciating and respecting other cultures inside and outside their country and the community.

High schools, and therefore, high school students--need to be in partnership with community businesses and agencies, community colleges, four-year colleges—these institutions would act as extended learning centers for students. Students as individuals and as groups would be coming and going as needed.

High school should be open ended--if students can take upper level classes and test out of classes, let them. If they can graduate early, let them. Keep raising the bar for them, but give them the carrot to continue reaching for the bar. The system as it is currently operating encourages "slackers" and "sandbaggers." On the other hand, if a student needs to stay until they meet the requirements (up to a point determined by law and the local school board), then let them. If a student is 19, let’s say and still has not graduated, work with them on a GED, or send them to an agency that is approved to do GED instruction. In other words, work with students to make the transitions into the high school and out of the high school as educationally sound and as smooth as possible in addition to facilitating students' growth while in high school.

Pollyanna? Maybe so, but we have to start some place—it won’t get done otherwise. “Pick your battle.”

I'm a more than a little surprised and dismayed at Prof. Rotter's "don't bother" reply.

An exacerbating problem here in Massachusetts with many public high schools is that as many as 20%-30% of our eigth graders are opting for private high schools every year. Probably the worst outcome of this situation is that it leaves many of our public high schools talent-depeleted (academics and extracurricular). Many of these youngsters are moved into the private sector by parents who want their child to go to high school with a more desirable clientele (Coleman report still alive). They don't want their children to have to even be exposed to the less desirable public school youngsters. I'm guessing this is also a problem in many other states.

We need to teach high school students more like adults. What I mean by this is: In the book, Adult Learner by Malcolm S. Knowles there are six principles listed about the way that adults learn that need to be addressed. (1) Learner's need to know -- why, what and how(2) Self-concept of the learner -- autonomous, self-directing (3) Prior experience of the learner -- resource, mental models(4) Readiness to learn -- life related, developmental task (5) Orientation to learning -- problem centered, contextual and (6) Motivation to learn -- intrisic value, personal payoff. Kids today are much more mature about the world in general than people in past generations. School, in most cases, just doesn't seem relevant. We must make it more relevant or we will lose more and more students. We must bring in more job-related learning, use more technology such as videoconferencing to make it more interesting, and offer different ways to get courses, such as online courses.

I have been a high school change consultant, high school assistant principal, high school teacher, and, at an earlier stage in my career, a high school student. I think Mark R. has it right(above - High School Principal 01/28/2005 12:19AM).

That he is a sitting high school principal should give us all pause to listen. That he only found time to post at 12:19 AM might speak to other challenges we face in improving high schools.

I would suggest that we need to refocus our high schools to educate students who can think, not regurgitate facts. As an IT executive, one of the problems I face constantly is that we have too many employees who do not know how to be analysts. Most of the jobs today (at least many of the good jobs) need people who can analyze information, communicate well verbally and in writing, and who know how to find the information they need to solve problems.

Our society has changed. In the past, people were valuable when they knew a lot of "facts", because it was difficult to find the facts, so a lot of emphasis in our schools was learning these facts. Today, we need people who know what to do with those facts. With the internet and other technologies we can easily find the facts.

I also have one comment about "highly qualified teachers". The most highly qualified teacher I had in high school had her PhD in Chemistry (her subject). She was easily the worst teacher I ever had. What we really need are effective teachers, of which knowing your subject matter is only one of the criteria, and I am not convinced in high school that it is the most important. It really depends on whether you look at teachers as the "dispenser" of knowledge or as guides to learning.

Parents are not the problem. My parents had issues. I luckily went to schools in the 1950's and 1960's. Teachers aren't the problem.

Here's the problem. The values-free, nonjudgmental, nondirective model CREATED BY Maslow and Carl Rogers and William Coulson.

Most teachers are not aware that these psychologists launched the U.S. into experimental education modeled after psychotherapy encounter groups - FOR THE UN-SICK, THE WELL.

Dr. Coulson is in his 70's and he tours the country apologizing for what he has done. Before he died, Dr. Maslow RECANTED - something not many educators do not know.

This entire hoax, if you will, is recounted in an important book, "The Road to Malpsychia: Humanistic psychology and our discontents" by JOYCE MILTON. 2002. www.encounterbooks.com

"Milton shows what happened when educators to eagerly adopted the principle that children must develop 'intrinsic knowledge,' free from 'the tyranny of facts.'

Our daughter is 14. She thought that the first U.S. President was Abraham Lincoln. That is shameful.

The "self-esteem" movement tells children they are wonderful people - even if they aren't. Coulson gives an example of Korean students vs. U.S. math students. The Koreans had low "self-esteem - but higher math scores; but the U.S. students scored high on "self-esteem" - and failed miserably.

More important books are on my blog site at http:reclaimschools/blogspot.com

Put students back in rows and teach the disciplines.

Drop all the research, the surveys about values, discussions of personal, private issues, like political and religious practices. Fire teachers who have political campaign signs in their offices; fire teachers who talk openly about sex to their students. That's sexual harassment most devious.

Today, students are expected to already know what they don't know. They are expected to make decisions when they are not mature.

Return to teaching the disciplines. This will surely return STRUCTURE to our classes which is badly needed. And children who have ADHD badly need structure.

Why do parents homeschool? We are very close to doing this. Reasons: (1) High school now has 14 year-old girls in the same school as 18-year-old men. RETURN TO COMMON SENSE: Elementary grades 1 thru 6; Junior High School grades 7 thru 9; and High School grades 10 thru 12.

2) "Adolescent Sexual Socialization." Sex "training". We are opting her out of health education - and I'm a health educator!! I know more about it than the average teacher - not their fault! I've seen one curriculum, "Reducing the Risks" which deliberately and irresponsibly reports that AIDS is growing faster in the heterosexual community -- but in shear NUMBERS, men having sex with men account for the majority of cases. (Hopefully, the gay activists I've read about recently will step up prevention in their community again.) In our district's high school, a mere 3% of children have HIV. That is scandolously disproportionate to teach children about condoms, shopping for condoms, et al. It's sexual molestation of the mind and spirit. That is, what Add Health calls "Adolescent Sexual Socialization". http://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/addhealth/news

(3) As stated, schools have abandoned the disciplines at the

Parents are not the problem. My parents had issues. I luckily went to schools in the 1950's and 1960's. Teachers aren't the problem.

Here's the problem. The values-free, nonjudgmental, nondirective model CREATED BY Maslow and Carl Rogers and William Coulson.

Most teachers are not aware that these psychologists launched the U.S. into experimental education modeled after psychotherapy encounter groups - FOR THE UN-SICK, THE WELL.

Dr. Coulson is in his 70's and he tours the country apologizing for what he has done. Before he died, Dr. Maslow RECANTED - something not many educators do not know.

This entire hoax, if you will, is recounted in an important book, "The Road to Malpsychia: Humanistic psychology and our discontents" by JOYCE MILTON. 2002. www.encounterbooks.com

"Milton shows what happened when educators to eagerly adopted the principle that children must develop 'intrinsic knowledge,' free from 'the tyranny of facts.'

Our daughter is 14. She thought that the first U.S. President was Abraham Lincoln. That is shameful.

The "self-esteem" movement tells children they are wonderful people - even if they aren't. Coulson gives an example of Korean students vs. U.S. math students. The Koreans had low "self-esteem - but higher math scores; but the U.S. students scored high on "self-esteem" - and failed miserably.

More important books are on my blog site at http:reclaimschools/blogspot.com

Put students back in rows and teach the disciplines.

Drop all the research, the surveys about values, discussions of personal, private issues, like political and religious practices. Fire teachers who have political campaign signs in their offices; fire teachers who talk openly about sex to their students. That's sexual harassment most devious.

Today, students are expected to already know what they don't know. They are expected to make decisions when they are not mature.

Return to teaching the disciplines. This will surely return STRUCTURE to our classes which is badly needed. And children who have ADHD badly need structure.

Why do parents homeschool? We are very close to doing this. Reasons: (1) High school now has 14 year-old girls in the same school as 18-year-old men. RETURN TO COMMON SENSE: Elementary grades 1 thru 6; Junior High School grades 7 thru 9; and High School grades 10 thru 12.

2) "Adolescent Sexual Socialization." Sex "training". We are opting her out of health education - and I'm a health educator!! I know more about it than the average teacher - not their fault! I've seen one curriculum, "Reducing the Risks" which deliberately and irresponsibly reports that AIDS is growing faster in the heterosexual community -- but in shear NUMBERS, men having sex with men account for the majority of cases. (Hopefully, the gay activists I've read about recently will step up prevention in their community again.) In our district's high school, a mere 3% of children have HIV. That is scandolously disproportionate to teach children about condoms, shopping for condoms, et al. It's sexual molestation of the mind and spirit. That is, what Add Health calls "Adolescent Sexual Socialization". http://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/addhealth/news

(3) As stated, schools have abandoned the disciplines at the expense of classic education - which include GREAT BOOKS. I am appalled by the books our child brings home from school. Violence, locker room language - not academic!

(4) Milton also says that "teachers are afraid to be authority figures, or if they do know how, they get NO SUPPORT.

I read with interest most of the comments on the topic of high school reform, but what I failed to see is what we in the "trenches" see everyday: many of these kids simply do not care about learning. to expect some tests, programs, or after school remediation to magically transform kids into learners is unrealistic. Yesterday, I gave the 10th grade North Carolina writing test to 31 students; the test lasted from 8:30 am through 10:15 am. By 9:00, SEVENTEEN of the 31 were asleep, and by 9:15, they were all asleep. They cared absolutely nothing about that test, and our scores will reflect that attitude. Before tests are used to gauge the effectiveness of high schools, somebody better get real and go see for him/herself what those kids think of all our fancy testing programs, if you can wake them up long enough to talk.

Learning is not something that comes from the outside; learning has to come from the inside, and until students realize that, no amount of programs in the world will make a hill of beans worth of difference.

Think about this, too, please. We have these kids 8 hours a day, 90 minutes per class. Where do they go after school?? What influences do they have?? If the home life is not structured to value education, then why in the world do we think school can turn a life around?? Truly, teachers are the first to want that turn-around, and we'd give our left arms to make it happen, and happily, sometimes it does; however, the reality of it is, yes, most kids can learn IF THEY WANT TO LEARN. Many see school as something to get through, so they can, as one of my students told me, "get on with my life."

Just some thoughts to share from one who's been there for 21 years.

Rebecca

Having taught Chemistry at Parkway North High School in St. Louis MO for 28 years, I am well aware of some changes that need to be made in the way science is taught in High School. I know that I spent a considerable amount of time not only helping students unlearn bad science; but also helping them understand why the information provided in their textbooks was wrong. I talked to representatives of the publishers about starting a website where these infrequent errors could be discussed. I assume that authors of current high school texts have little desire to accept input which might result in the improvement of their texts.
If high school curriculum is to improve, the improvements and the evaluation of any changes must be made in cooperation with those who are responsible with carrying out its implementation. In addition, those teachers further up the chain need a tactful way of reviewing and providing the information to teachers of younger children so that they could avoid providing wrong and misleading information.
Let me give you an example. Because it is in her curriculum, a second grade teacher was teaching that the earth is the largest magnet. First, the earth is not a magnet. Because of its moving molten core of iron and nickel, it does generate a magnetic field which geologic evidence shows that it has reversed from time to time. Magnets do not generally reverse their field. However, if we do accept the earth as a magnet; Pluto and the Sun have magnetic fields far greater than the earth.
The argument sometimes is that second graders wouldn't know that and telling them that the earth is a magnet makes it easier for them to understand why the earth has a north and a south pole. In my mind, this doesn't wash. If the material is too difficult; then, postpone it until students are ready.
A team of four High School Chemistry teachers found over 40 errors in the first five chapters of the textbooks they had chosen. Even standardized tests are not error free. An essay question on a MAP test (a standardized test used in Missouri) asked students why the elements in the first group (IA) of the periodic table had similar physical and chemical properties. The correct answer is that those who developed the table organized the elements according to their chemical and physical properties. The answer which was counted correct was: they all have one valence electron. Of course, the periodic table was established long before the scientists were aware of the existence of electrons.
What I am trying to say is: (1) students need to be actively involved in real research, (2) they need to given textbooks which are much more error free, (3) if they are given a standardized test, it must ask and expect correct answers, and (4) the true evaluation of a student must not only measure knowledge but also performance.

Compulsory education is a phrase with mutually exclusive terms.

Consider the number of hours a young person is imprisoned during K-12 schooling: Something around 13-14K? Oh, as Martin J. Blank implies above, what could communities do with even a fraction of those hours devoted to their care and improvement?

Oh, wait. I forgot. We need some place to keep the roving bands of youth all day, keep them off the streets, keep them out of our face. And feed them sometimes two meals a day.

Let's call a spade a spade.

Education is the issue not just high schools. The educational mainstream has moved so slowly on the new information about teaching and learning we are left with a model that is broken.

We know that a person must be motivated in their own learning before they will learn more. A person must make connections to earlier knowledge if they are to learn anything new. We also know that the amount of factual knowledge in the world now doubles every 2-3 years. We cannot expect to graduate walking encyclopedias. Given these facts we cannot pretend that what we have done in education for the last 100 years will continue to work now.


Students must have a curriculum that gives them the latitude to explore topics they find interesting, as PART of their learning. We need to spend more time on skills such as accessing and assessing information, not memorizing information. We must give students the opportunity to think and learn at complex levels. Lastly we need to have teachers start using methods that use the principals of brain research.

There are many ways to do this, but the truth is the schools that are most effective at this today have gone with radical reform. We need to look at models such as the MET school in Providence RI (there are many others). They are not perfect, but problems can be "fixed" because they foster an environment of continual improvement, not the status quo. We need to be problem solvers.

Thank you for opportunity to express my opinion.

High schools need decent leadership, characterized by the power to recognize, utilize, and reward talented teachers. Instead, we have leaders more interested in building resumes, supporting athletics, cavorting with local and state leaders, and decimating anyone who would dare to challenge them. If an idea does not originate with administration, it is disregarded, if not openly disparaged. Leadership refuses to deal with meaningful data that should be the foundation of sound planning; therefore we strive merely to appear effective, not to actually be effective. Though great leadership is the key to significant reform, people seeking leadership positions typically do so for the wrong reasons: money, social status,perks, or to escape the rigors of the classroom. Those who would be fantastic administrators disdain the culture of compromise, prefering to stay in the classroom with their principles intact. To change that sad fact will require considerable bravery, not more tests or fads.

Clearly, high schools do need to change. A key ingredient is including students in the re-design. I have found that "people support what they help create." If high schools are to successfully serve today's 14-18 year olds, their voices need to be part of the conversation. Education is not something you can "do" to someone else. When people are motivated, when they have a say in the decisions that impact them, they bring commitment and energy to the task. Student voices need to include not just the student council types, but all groups of high school students. I've found they have great insight!

go back to the model of the 1950's when schools educated students...eliminate teacher's unions: their inception signalled the end of a focus on education and the beginning of bureaucracy and politics...to the detriment of the students...eradicate the ACLU's influence undermining discipline...cease mainstreaming whereby disruptive students prevent our brightest from their potential and the common denominator is significantly lower...promote competition and achievement:stop the non-sensical self-esteem theories

Yes, high schools can be fixed, but effective high school reform has little to do with higher standards or more frequent testing, the low-cost, low-risk changes trumpeted most frequently by politicians. High school reform that works will require adequate resources to transform curriculum and instruction and organizational structure.

Higher standards are laudable but irrelevant if the curriculum does not provide the wherewithal to help students close significant gaps in their literacy and mathematics skills. The most challenged high schools must accommodate incoming freshmen who read and compute on the fifth- or sixth-grade level. Higher standards will not help such students to master English I or Algebra I.

Teacher quality is a hot-button issue few politicians are willing to take on, but it is an unfortunate fact that schools that serve the most students who are at the greatest risk of academic failure and dropout often have the fewest highly qualified teachers. The problem will worsen as teachers of the Baby Boom generation retire.

"Troubled" schools often suffer critical shortages of qualified teachers in mathematics, science, and special education. In addition, too many faculty members cling to the "drill and kill" method and the "pedogogy of poverty." Some fear losing control of their classrooms, others simply refuse to change. For whatever reason, many students are subjected to classroom practices that are neither engaging, interactive, nor, most importantly, effective.

Until public education commits the resources necessary to re-train current teachers, to induce talented students to major in education, and to make it financially feasible for experienced professionals to become teachers, we will continue to see high dropout rates and to produce high school graduates who cannot succeed in college without remediation, assuming they persist.

We must reorganize high school so that the student is placed at the center of our concerns, not subject-matter departments. State assessments now test skills that can and should be taught with a multidisciplinary approach. For example, does it really matter whether a student learns to write a persuasive essay in English, social studies, or science class? Wouldn't it make sense to teach and reinforce such a crucial skill in all classes? The division high schools into departments is merely a convenient way to organize large bodies of information, but departmentalization has become sacrosanct in American high schools. Particularly when students require acecelerated instruction to meet graduation requirements in four or five years, we must move to a format that is student- centered and maximizes opportunities to teach and learn the very skills that are being tested.

Some will protest that such initiatves are too expensive. I wonder about the kind of society we have become when we are willing to run major deficits to prosecute a foreign war, but balk at the notion of devoting adequate funding for education reform. We shoulld be ashamed of ourselves for leaving so many of our children to languish in schools that do not help them to maximize their capabilities.

We at the National Center for School Engagement would like to see some meaningful reform in high schools that would address the average of 32% of students who start high school, but do not finish with a regular diploma. All our research says to target the ninth grade transition as the most cost effective point of beginning HS reform. Many are pushed out or counseled into GED programs because they do not "fit"(i.e. "cannot learn").

Everyone is ignoring the most basic issue of school attendance. Excessive absence and or tardies whether excused or not drives significant school failure and disengagement. Lack of caring adults at school also drives dropouts. Our research is showing even students who stay in school to finish are not very engaged.

The best overhaul of the system we can advance is to eliminate the 12th grade as we know it and transform it into an internship and/or service learning year and shift whose resources to quality preschool. Essentially shift the whole system down one level to give universal access to four-year olds, and change the senior year from party time to meaningful life transition experiences. Radical reform is long overdue

It's interesting to read about various high school reform models being declared the "best" by Bill Gates and other business and foundation leaders. They all seem to think high school change is simply a matter of outside expertise or model replication. Gates' speech to the Governors had all the right critiques of the "obsolete" American high school, critiques which have been repeated so many times over the last decade that they have become unhelpful cliches by now. He applies them with a broad brush guaranteed to put educators on the defensive. But when it came to strategies for change, all he could come up with was "send in the experts and let them take over." He added a short list of programs and "models" that are supposedly effective and held them up as if they can be copied or replicated like Starbucks in other districts, regardless of the unique conditions, previous experiences or demographics. Isn't this the classic approach to top-down reform? Transforming high schools is a community endeavor. The people with the prolem are the people with the solutions. They (teachers, parents and community folks) need some opportunities to engage, some resources (not delivered in the form of threats or so-called "non-negotiables") and some leadership at the school and district level. Where those things are in place or developing, high school reform and restructuring is moving forward.

Eisenhower said "War begins in the minds of men." But so do all other problems. The brain is where the mind is located and how it functions determines the quality of the mind. If a student is disruptive, it's because of what's going on in the brain. If a student is not able to learn, it's the quality of brain functioning that is at fault. If a student is failing, or is a bully, or chooses to hurt someone, including a teacher, it's because the brain is disorderly, is functioning in an inefficient way or is malfunctioning. If a teacher commits a crime, it's because the teacher has brain damage. All of these statements can be proven by looking at www.brainplace.com. The solution and the only one that is universally applicable and 100% successful is to improve the way the students' and teachers' brains function. There is one way that has been proven to do this. It is the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. Schools around the world are having the students taught the TM technique. THOSE SCHOOLS ARE COMPLETELY FREE OF ALL THE PROBLEMS THAT PLAGUE OTHER SCHOOLS. THERE ARE NO DRUGS, SMOKING, VIOLENCE, DEPRESSION, LOW GRADES, APATHY, BULLYING, VANDALISM, DROP-OUTS OR ANYTHING ELSE THAT IS NOT CONDUCIVE TO PERSONAL GROWTH OR ACADEMIC SUCCESS. In fact, just the opposite. Students who practice the TM technique are proactive when it comes to gaining an education. They seek out, they ask, they study, they want to better themselves and they are more likely to seek out knowledge and other students they can help than dismiss education as a waste of time. Since all educational and personal problems are caused either directly or indirectly by disorderly brain functioning, until the educational system gives this knowledge to the studends, the problems will not be solved. The ability to practice the TM technique is built into the body. It is completely natural and over 600 published studies prove its value. Look at www.CBEprograms.org, www.maharishischooliowa.org, www.mum.edu/research, www.istpp.org, www.globalgoodnews.com.

I have read everyone's contribution. Everyone above have made excellent points. Until parents, politicians, and society in general make education a priority.....a real, true, priority; we will only make a few insignificant changes. NCLB is an edict made at the federal level, and then it is not funded. Test scores must be raised a specific amount each year, but we will included all those test scores. Every child will be tested, but tested at their sitting grade level, not their ability level. Does anybody else see a pattern here? No one is taking education seriously.

Why do we still maintain an agri-calendar? The help in the fields is now done with machinery. The Europeons have the right idea; everyone has July off to travel. It is a year-round school calendar. You go to school for 14 weeks and then have a week off. Repeat.

Not all students are going to college. Why do they all have to take the same boring classes? All students have to find meaning to what they are studying, and they have to be able to use it.
Isn't that true of society?

I have a learning support class. This year 5th grade. I supposed to offer small group, one on one, & specific strategies for each student. My reading class is almost as large as the regular ed. teacher's room that my students come from. I was told by a state representative, that I have to teach 'The Test'. 'The Test' being, of course, the one we use to prove that our student's can & will achieve. My 5th graders have to take the 5th grade test. They come to my classroom because they are learning at about a 2-year lag. But they must take a test using vocabulary they have never been exposed to except randomly in public conversation. Let's not even talk about money. Interesting picture I paint, huh?

Everyone must accept that our future is only in supporting education and holding it up as important. And if that High Schooler has to put their drunken parent to bed, then we need to support that high schooler. Show the inequity & let that kid succeed. If my learning support student has to take a standardized test, then let him/her take one that they have a fighting chance at being successful taking. And if that means the legislature quits making teachers jump through hoops to prove they are "highly proficient"; then the legislature needs to shut up and step aside.

Committment, takes committment.

Hi Folks - We seem to be a pendulum society. Right now we seem to be concentrqting on (1) leaving no child behind (without any qualifications?) and (2) SHORTCOMINGS OF HIGH SCHOOLS.

There are of course partial justifications for these emphases. However, when a garden hose is clogged and little water is squirting out the nozzle, you wouldn't place all of your attention on just the nozzle. We must consider the readiness of students for K, 1, 2,...etc, all the way to grade 9, before we place too much of the blame on just the high schools. I have just applied for the local position of schools director (or superintendent).

I have specific proposals for curriculum enrichment and acceleration, from pre-K through grade 10. At the end of grade I0, our students should be prepared to face the "outside worlds" in this century. Then, in grades 11 and 12, they should be able to apply for advanced (college level or work/study) courses.) Let me know if you want more specifics.

I am also drafting a booklet on how to teach and learn -- for students, parents and teachers.

Thank you for your attention - John Shacter; 865-376-7600 or [email protected]

As a person who has worked in high schools for almost 30 years I have seen as significant decline in the level of interest in our students. I feel this has come from the fact that many school systems assume that all students want to attend college and most of our curricular programs are basted on that assumption. We are forcing students into classes that have very little relevance toward career goals or choices. Progams that are work-force related are constantly being replaced by more math and literacy. The infusion of these skills should come from a different approach. We force students to sit in front of computers or to read ancient facts that give them no hope as how they will function in a few short years after high school. For the non-college bound student, which in urban systems this population is especially high we offer next to nothing to meet their needs. To re-vamp high schools we must look at populations and offer drastically different methods of teaching, no all of which will occur in a tradtional class room with desks and a teacher. For those students who already are deficient in literacy more of the same is not the exact answer, in many cases it is what frustrates the learner even more, to the point where they fail all together. Hopefully this little concern will be viewed as part of the conversation. But before any changes can truly take place, I would hope that those who will make the decisions and assume they know come to the schools and ask those of us who live this scenario each and everyday.

Thank you,

As a person who has worked in high schools for almost 30 years I have seen a significant decline in the level of interest in our students. I feel this has decline has occurred in many school systems because it is assumed that all students want to attend college and most of our curricular programs are basted on that assumption. We are forcing students into classes that have very little relevance toward career goals or choices. Progams that are work-force related are constantly being replaced by more math and literacy. The infusion of these skills should come from a different approach. We force students to sit in front of computers or to read ancient facts that give them no hope as to how they will function in a few short years after high school. For the non-college bound student, which in urban systems this population is especially high, we offer next to nothing to meet their needs. To re-vamp high schools we must look at populations and offer drastically different methods of teaching, no all of which will occur in a tradtional class room with desks and a teacher. For those students who already are deficient in literacy more of the same is not the exact answer, in many cases it is what frustrates the learner even more, to the point where they fail all together. Hopefully this little concern will be viewed as part of the conversation. But before any changes can truly take place, I would hope that those who will make the decisions and assume they know, come to the schools and ask questions to those of us who live this scenario each and everyday.

Thank you,

Having taught on the high school level for 30+ years, I feel I have something to contribute to the discussion. We must recognize and be willing to do something about the way we present material to students. We need to utilize the current (and past) research concerning the brain and how people learn. We need to teach to the various learning styles; we need to teach to students' intelligences, realizing that kids are smart in many areas; and we need to teach to their hemisphericity. We must consciously endeavor to lead students as far up Bloom's Taxonomy as possible on a daily basis. In order to teach in this manner, teachers must know these things about themselves, first, and then about their students. Simply incorporating three multiple intelligences into each lesson will improve learning and grades, according to research. We need to address the literacy problem, and, hopefully NCLB will help in that area and many literacy problems will be addressed prior to high school. If not, then high school teachers must concentrate on the comprehension area of literacy/reading. No longer is it sufficient to tell students to open their books, read designated pages, then answer the questions or fill out yet another worksheet. The teacher must be involved in each phase of the lesson...before, during, and after. That will take a lot of planning--imagine that! Teachers must also have the attitude that all students can learn something, and have tolerance toward those who can't learn as much as others. I tell my graduate students that many of the lower-performing students will be serving the rest of us in many important ways for the rest of our lives. When that nursing assistant helps me onto my bedpan in the nursing home, I want to know that I've provided her/him the best I had to offer in high school. Principals must get involved in the academic side of the high school. They need to be visible in classrooms and must be knowledgeable of proper teaching methods and strategies. All of us must be willing to step outside that sometimes outmoded box called high school (I won't go so far as to use the term "obsolete") and be willing to make the changes necessary to turn out students ready for higher education and the workforce. By the way, we must also face the fact that not every high school graduate will go on to college, nor does every high school graduate even need to go on to college. Sometimes high school teachers, who are content-oriented anyway, teach their courses as if every student will go to college and major in their subject. That's ideal (for I sometimes did it too), but not realistic. Let's equip our high school students to be contributing members of society. One final thing, our students need to know that we care, even that we love them. That makes all the difference in the world, especially to the low-performing students.

1. Students should be grouped by ability/aptitude, not age.
2. Teachers should trade wage and benefit packages with our congressmen (but have to prove they deserve it).
3. Central schools should be abolished in favor of local "one-room" educational centers.
4. Eliminate the NEA.
5. Require all students and teachers to learn the concept of commitment (to self, to spouse, to community) and model it in their personal lifestyles.
6. Those that do not follow rule 5 lose their privilege of attending/working in education.

In the UK we have been seeking to reform/transform our secondary schools (High Schools)for a number of years. I feel one the significant features of the transformation of our schools began in 1989 when the government introduced Local Management of Schools. This one act gave Principals control over budgets, personnel, premises matters and local decision making. Over the years the skills and competencies of out Principals have developed and we are now seeing radical and rapid improvements.

Schools need the funding to address the Nine Gateways to Learning (Professor David Hargreave):
Curriculum
Learning to learn
Workforce development
Assessment for Learning
School organisation and design
New technologies
Student voice
Advice and guidance
Mentoring and coaching
(see Prof. David Hargreaves www.sst-inet.net)

This can not be achieved whilst there remains over-administration and bureaucracy. Literacy and numeracy are a basic entitlement but they need to be funded. We have found that improved performance in schools has gone hand-in-hand with increaed levels of direct funding to schools and greater decision making powers to Principals and their governing bodies. It was one of your countrymen who said 'think global act local' I contend that by giving true delegation to your schools i.e. responsibility, accountability but most importantly authority, you will see the capacity for sustainable improvement increase dramatically.

Students need to be more invovled in the subject matter. Socratic seminars once a week are an excellent way to value student opinions, use texts, and clarify opinions.

High schools need to revisit priorities. We have drifted toward increase importance of sports to improve minority graduation rates. A study found the crime rate is increasing for teen-age grades. What do these facts have in common? The answer is a decline of the arts in high school.
Administrators say the cuts are necessary to provide time for high stakes state testing programs. Yes, it is one reason but not the main one. Our local high school had only one music teacher to teach the marching band, strings, choral groups, and ensembles. They lost a good teacher that amazingly succeeded. The replacement was just out of college and only 3 years older than some students. He quit midyear. The replacement gave as her main reference ‘Church bell choir. Most of the seniors quit. One played 4 instruments, wanted to teach music and was on track for a scholarship.
After the marching band murdered our National Anthem at the football game the principal came up to introduce the ten football coaches. Need I say more?’
Bob

Any improvement will happen only in small steps. The easiest first step would be to abolish teacher tenure. We all know effective teaching when we see it. No checklist for teacher performance is needed. Teachers should work on contracts like pro athletes. Both long and short term contracts could be offered and at the end of the term there would be no automatic renewal. Salaries would be negoiated by both parties and supply and demand and effectiveness would ditate the value of the teacher for school district. This would force competition among districts and rid the system of ineffective teachers. I truly believe the teacher makes the difference, but our current system does not encourage good teaching.

American schools have taken the stability of common values and common sense out of the classroom. Our schools have become like ships without a compass. Our collective heart’s need to be reestablished in common values that everyone involved with our schools are willing to follow.

What value is education? Its certianly doesn't guarantee a living wage. My son, a high school graduate makes more money throwing cases of Coca Cola on the grocery shelf than I do teaching high school science. I have the degree, I attend 150 hours of professional development every 5 years. I pay out of my own pocket for additional training so I can be a good teacher. My high school students look at me and laugh. I am supposed to be a role model, a reason why a student should want to continue with their education. Why should they go to school, so they can barely make a living, like me? Don't kid yourself people. The fundamental problem here is society does not value the educator. If they did we would be prized, we would be respected, we would be highly compensated. We have a government that claims they want "highly qualified teachers", but they don't want to pay me. Instead, they dump millions of dollars into testing, grading the tests, supplemental materials for testing. I lost 10-20 of my "teaching days" to state testing this school year. Yet, I am still supposed to teach all of the curriculum objectives before the students test. And those students are supposed to pass that test or they won't graduate. Do I wnat them to pass, you bet I do. Do I hear "what am I doing in class so the students pass the test",you bet I do. So I do what I hate, and that is sacrificing another month of teaching science to teaching test taking skills.
I guess my point is.....If a student had any intrinsic motivation to learn at all, it was probably lost on the way to the testing room.

The only problem I see existing with our education today is not the fault of the teachers, the education system, or the government. It is the fault of the parents. I believe the majority of parents (or at least enough of them to make a difference), view public schools as a baby-sitting club. Those parents aren’t involved, they do not check homework and have no idea what their children are learning (or doing) at school. They don’t even care about the clothing (if that is what you’d call it) some of the kids wear.

Because those parents have a “not so interested” attitude, it is reflected in their kids. Those kids then spread their attitudes to other kids like the plague. I’m all for teacher accountability but first and foremost, the kids and their parents should be accountable and I really don’t want to hear any sob story about poor Johnny having behavior problems because his single-parent mom is struggling to make ends meet (enough of us have been there to contradict that one). If Johnny can’t keep up, is disrupting the class then his parent(s) need to deal with him - not the school. Look, some kids just need more homework (without the State putting restrictions on the amount of homework a teacher can dish out) or real consequences for their behavior (without the Schools worrying about a civil lawsuit!). (Kids with disabilities are, of course, an exception!)

Wow! a lot of people have a lot to say about the state of things that they have a lot of control over. You as the adult in the classroom have to pull up your boot straps and get with the program! Testing is here to stay and should be taken as they are intended, to measure the student's ability.

Wow! SO may ideas so liittle time. Well it seems as if the situation is quite complicated because one person's common sense is another's dumbest idea. I agree that perhaps we should seriously reconsider the agrairian calender. It really serves no modern purpose. But local school boards that a strapped financially, fear the teacher backlash. Teachers want their summer off.
Secondly there needs to be more choice within the public schools; offerparents the choice of art schools, montessori schools, waldorf, classical and whatever you call the crap they;ve got know. Hey, it a modern world is it too much to ask that foreign language(community choice) start in Kindergarten? Ever wonder why it's possible for so many foreign students to come to our universities- they get foreign language education early.
Lastly, I agree that after the 10th grade students in consultation with their parents should decide if they want a college prep education or a vocational/technical prep education that stills leaves college as an option.

Also, there is way too much bureaucracy. Can some please tell me what the purpose of the federal dept of education is? I thought that the states were constitutionally responsible for public education?

President Bush continues to provide the schools with rhetoric about improvement while withdrawing funding. According to Bonnie Bracey (March 23, 2005, Digital Divide), "The most significant cut in the educational technology arena was the Administration's proposal to delete all of the $496 million for the EETT program...the ideational scaffolding for the uses of technology, the regional labs and other resources have been changed or eliminated."

What this means locally is that here in the Chicago Public Schools, each school is being asked to include in its already overstretched budget $2.00 per computer per month fee for accessing the network. Additionally, non-essential jobs (jobs that don't involve seeing 5 classes of students per day) are in jeopardy of being cut. Teachers occupying the position of programmer, technology coordinator, and attendance officer may have their positions cut. For the past decade, we have been developing a technology infrastructure, but find ourselves presently with little funding to maintain, replace, and further its growth and development. So we've conditioned our kids to use technology, have begun to integrate it in our lessons, and now find ourselves having to limit our access to it to accomodate a federally diminished educational budget. Let's call this the All Children Left Behind Act.

I appreciate all your comments and perspectives on this issue.

Any discussion of fixing our high schools is not complete without looking at the work of Dr. Ted and Nancy Sizer on this issue.

Dr. Sizer was previously the dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard and, subsequently, the headmaster of Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. He is the Founding Director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

The Common Principles (abbrev.)
1. Learning to use one's mind well
2. Less is More, depth over coverage
3. Goals apply to all students
4. Personalization
5. Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach
6. Demonstration of mastery
7. A tone of decency and trust
8. Commitment to the entire school
9. Resources dedicated to teaching and learning
10. Democracy and equity

Learning to use one’s mind well
The school should focus on helping young people learn to use their minds well. Schools should not be "comprehensive" if such a claim is made at the expense of the school's central intellectual purpose.

Less is more, depth over coverage
The school's goals should be simple: that each student master a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. While these skills and areas will, to varying degrees, reflect the traditional academic disciplines, the program's design should be shaped by the intellectual and imaginative powers and competencies that the students need, rather than by "subjects" as conventionally defined. The aphorism "less is more" should dominate: curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content.

Goals apply to all students
The school's goals should apply to all students, while the means to these goals will vary as those students themselves vary. School practice should be tailor-made to meet the needs of every group or class of students.

Personalization
Teaching and learning should be personalized to the maximum feasible extent. Efforts should be directed toward a goal that no teacher have direct responsibility for more than 80 students in the high school and middle school and no more than 20 in the elementary school. To capitalize on this personalization, decisions about the details of the course of study, the use of students' and teachers' time and the choice of teaching materials and specific pedagogies must be unreservedly placed in the hands of the principal and staff.

Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach
The governing practical metaphor of the school should be student-as-worker, rather than the more familiar metaphor of teacher-as-deliverer-of-instructional-services. Accordingly, a prominent pedagogy will be coaching, to provoke students to learn how to learn and thus to teach themselves.

Demonstration of mastery
Teaching and learning should be documented and assessed with tools based on student performance of real tasks. Students not yet at appropriate levels of competence should be provided intensive support and resources to assist them quickly to meet those standards. Multiple forms of evidence, ranging from ongoing observation of the learner to completion of specific projects, should be used to better understand the learner's strengths and needs, and to plan for further assistance. Students should have opportunities to exhibit their expertise before family and community. The diploma should be awarded upon a successful final demonstration of mastery for graduation - an "Exhibition." As the diploma is awarded when earned, the school's program proceeds with no strict age grading and with no system of credits earned" by "time spent" in class. The emphasis is on the students' demonstration that they can do important things.

A tone of decency and trust
The tone of the school should explicitly and self-consciously stress values of unanxious expectation ("I won't threaten you but I expect much of you"), of trust (until abused) and of decency (the values of fairness, generosity and tolerance). Incentives appropriate to the school's particular students and teachers should be emphasized. Parents should be key collaborators and vital members of the school community.

Commitment to the entire school
The principal and teachers should perceive themselves as generalists first (teachers and scholars in general education) and specialists second (experts in but one particular discipline). Staff should expect multiple obligations (teacher-counselor-manager) and a sense of commitment to the entire school.

Resources dedicated to teaching and learning
Ultimate administrative and budget targets should include student loads that promote personalization, substantial time for collective planning by teachers, competitive salaries for staff, and an ultimate per pupil cost not to exceed that at traditional schools by more than 10 percent. To accomplish this, administrative plans may have to show the phased reduction or elimination of some services now provided students in many traditional schools.

Democracy and equity
The school should demonstrate non-discriminatory and inclusive policies, practices, and pedagogies. It should model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school. The school should honor diversity and build on the strength of its communities, deliberately and explicitly challenging all forms of inequity.

http://www.essentialschools.org/pub/ces_docs/about/about.html

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