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Books in Translation

May 2008 | Volume 65 | Number 8
Reshaping High Schools

EL Study Guide

Teresa Preston

Time for a Change

In "High Schools at the Tipping Point," Bob Wise states that U.S. high schools are failing because they were "never designed to meet today's moral and economic demands of graduating all students" (p. 9). Despite these changing demands, Wise notes that the typical high school education has remained virtually unchanged since the current system was developed in the early 20th century.

  • Think back to your own high school education. How well did that system prepare you for life after high school? Have students' needs changed since you graduated, and have today's high schools kept up with these changes? What changes do schools need to make to better keep up with societal changes?
  • What do you believe the purpose of high school should be? What is the current system missing that would make it more successful at preparing all students for life in the 21st century?
  • Wise suggests that schools needs to align their expectations with those of college and the workplace, take a more individualized approach to education, and make better use of data and of technology. Do you believe these recommendations would make schools more effective? What other changes would you make to the current system?

Models for Change

Several authors in this issue explore models for changing high schools to better meet students' needs. In "Bringing Industry to the Classroom," Gary Hoachlander describes the Pathways model, which integrates college-preparatory curriculum with career and technical education. Janet Quint offers snapshots of Talent Development, First Things First, and career academies in "Lessons from Leading Models."

  • What did you already know about these programs? Describe any experiences you've had teaching or learning in schools that use these approaches.
  • If you work in a high school, what has your school done to integrate some of the principles used in these reform models? How might your school apply some of these ideas? Choose one of these models, or another model explored in this issue, and do some research on the benefits and pitfalls of adopting such an approach at your school. (See "About-Face!" by Hugh Price, "How We Reinvented the High School Experience" by John D. Forbes and Catherine Richelieu Saunders, "High Schools in the Global Age" by Anthony Jackson, and "How IB Prepares Students" [online only] by Jeffrey Beard and Ian Hill for examples of other models.)

Off to the Right Start

In "The Linchpin Year," Billie Donegan asserts that "when it comes to changing 9th grade, words abound, but actions are few" (p. 54). She encourages schools to go beyond offering "time-consuming, glitzy programs that often yield little result" (pp. 54–55). Instead, she asks school leaders to change their staffing and scheduling patterns to better support 9th graders.

  • What programs does your high school have in place to help 9th graders transition into high school? How effective have they been? What might make them more effective?
  • Follow Donegan's suggestion to calculate the student-to-teacher ratio in classes at each grade level. What does this calculation reveal?
  • If you're an administrator, look at which teachers are teaching 9th grade. What classes have you assigned to your most experienced and talented teachers? What about beginning teachers? What, if anything, needs to change, and what steps can you take to bring about those changes?
  • If you're a teacher, describe your own experiences, if any, teaching 9th grade. What are the rewards and challenges of teaching this grade level? How would you react if, like Donegan, you were asked to teach "regular freshmen" after accumulating 20 years of experience that included teaching honors seniors? What would make you willing to commit to teaching 9th graders?

On the Wrong Track

Mary Hatwood Futrell and Joel Gomez critique the practice of tracking in "How Tracking Creates a Poverty of Learning." They believe that tracking often puts low-income and minority students at a disadvantage because they are disproportionately placed in lower-level tracks.

  • Does your school have any sort of tracking system in place? If so, how do the tracks differ, both in terms of demographic makeup and in terms of curriculum? What might your school do to ensure that students receive equitable learning opportunities?
  • Futrell and Gomez acknowledge that teachers may find it more challenging to teach heterogeneous groups. What are the challenges of teaching students of varying abilities in the same classroom? What strategies might teachers use to teach more effectively in such a detracked system?
  • Many school systems that attempt to detrack their schools meet resistance from teachers, parents, and other stakeholders. What arguments might these groups present against detracking? What counterarguments could you provide to support eliminating tracking? Which arguments do you find more convincing?


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