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High School Reform Plan in the Works

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New Orleans

The National Association of Secondary School Principals will collaborate with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching on a comprehensive study of restructuring the nation's high schools, NASSP officials announced here last week.

The study is intended to be a catalyst for change at the high school level, which is generally considered to be the least reform-minded sector of K-12 education.

A 12-member panel named at the group's annual meeting last week will review such issues as the organization of the school day and year, student assessment, teaching practices, and the use of technology.

The commission is also expected to consider how to balance students' preparation for higher education with work-related training.

"We examined the barrage of reports, and it became obvious that there was no clear, definitive package of school restructuring that people could build on,'' noted Timothy J. Dyer, NASSP's executive director.

"We're not saying we should have one model,'' he added, "but there is still no holistic approach to the improvement of high schools.''

A survey of high school principals released last month, which was conducted by Gordon Cawelti of the Alliance for Curriculum Reform and sponsored in part by NASSP, appears to support Mr. Dyer's position.

While the study found that some reforms had gained popularity in many of the nation's public and private high schools, the changes were still slow and far from systematic. (See Education Week, Feb. 9, 1994.)

Middle School Model

Mr. Dyer said NASSP's decision to sign on to the joint project was inspired in part by the work of a task force of the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development.

In 1989, the task force produced a study that highlighted a "mismatch'' between the structure and curriculum of the middle grades and the needs of adolescent students. (See Education Week, June 21, 1989.)

The report suggested wide-ranging changes in the way those grade levels are taught, managed, and supported. It stressed the need for a flexible learning environment and better age-specific training for middle school educators.

Several educators at the conference pointed out that few national or regional reform efforts--other than Theodore R. Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools, based at Brown University--have focused on improving high school education.

While elementary and middle schools have often been on the cutting edge of school reform, participants suggested, high schools have been viewed as centers of bureaucracy where students spend much of their time fulfilling requirements.

The NASSP-Carnegie report will be distributed to high schools across the country. It is expected to be completed sometime next year.

The commission, which is scheduled to begin meeting this spring, is made up of high school administrators, students, a teacher, a superintendent, and university faculty members.

Gene Maeroff, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Foundation, will write the report based on the research and practical experiences of commission members.

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