The staff of Littleton (Colo.) High School has not given up on reform, despite the beating teachers took a year and a half ago for deciding to make students demonstrate what they know in order to graduate.
The school won praise nationwide for its 36 demonstrations of knowledge and skills that students had to complete to earn a diploma. But the requirements became a lightning rod for criticism in the Denver suburb. And after a conservative slate of candidates was elected to the Littleton school board in November 1993, the approach was quickly dropped in favor of the traditional course-credit system.
Over the past school year, Littleton High's teachers and administrators have salvaged 28 of the demonstrations, says Principal Tim Westerberg. Some were modified. Now, they are used as "major assignments" that students must complete in their coursework.
"They are still used, they are still alive, and they still represent standards-setting across the school," Westerberg says.
Without being directly tied to graduation, however, the demonstrations have lost some of their punch. Students admit they aren't working as hard to earn course grades as they were when they knew their exit from school depended on mastering the demonstrations, which they were free to repeat until they passed.
"It's certainly not as powerful a model," acknowledges Westerberg, who is still disappointed that the school board abandoned Littleton High's groundbreaking requirements. "The kids are pretty honest that it's easier than the performance system."
Teachers spent this school year refining the demonstrations. Next year, the principal says, they will become the focus of professional conversations as teachers get together to examine samples of students' work.
They will compare and contrast what students have produced under the demonstrations, keeping in mind the schoolwide standards for achievement. That's a conversation few American high schools are having, regardless of how students graduate.
Teachers also decided to resume, in a modified fashion, the "advisement program" used to help students put together their portfolios. Although students no longer have to collect their work in that way, teachers didn't want to lose the personal contact with students.
Ironically, the staff voted 77 to 2 to add the International Baccalaureate program at Littleton High. The program is similar in many ways to Direction 2000, the discarded performance-based graduation plan. Although it is voluntary and aimed only at highly motivated students, it requires students to meet an identified set of high standards by performing well on examinations.
The school board, which had been so critical of Direction 2000, approved launching the new program by a vote of 4 to 1.
"I'm extremely proud of what the staff has done," Westerberg says. "It would have been so easy to say, 'Forget it.' We're still miles ahead of the typical good suburban high school."
The teachers and students of the Charleston County, S.C., school district are continuing to reap the educational benefits of their "Can-Do" project's voyage of space exploration.
The project, a package of student-designed science experiments and high-resolution cameras, orbited the Earth on the space shuttle Endeavor two years ago. Since then, the Can-Do photographs have been in constant demand by educators and astronomers nationwide. Some have even appeared in a story aboutthe project in National Geographic magazine. The photographs and data gathered during the flight are expected to shape the district's curriculum for years to come.
A core group of Charleston County teachers has also been on hand for some cutting-edge scientific exploration.
Can-Do teachers flew aboard the Gerard P. Kuiper Airborne Observatory,a National Aeronautics and Space Administration aircraft, in the Southern Hemisphere last summer to observe the impact of a comet with Jupiter. Other Can-Do educators observed the collision from the Hubble Space Telescope Institute.
And this summer, a group of teachers will sail to the Bahamas, where they will compare photographs of the island of Andros taken from space with actual geological formations, a process scientists call "ground truth~ing."
"We also want to get some ground-level pictures--pictures of things that we photographed from space," notes James Nicholson, the supervisor of the photography laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina and nasa's principal investigator for the Can-Do project. "We'll have it right down to the various animals that live there, which is very helpful if you're teaching at a variety of grade levels."
The summer study will be multidisciplinary in order to draw teachers who might not otherwise be attracted to the physics and astronomy aspects of the project.
Next on the Can-Do agenda may be the development of a "home page" on the World Wide Web, the Internet's graphical interface. Through the home page, educators around the globe would one day be able to obtain high-quality digital copies of the Can-Do photographs over a telephone line.
All in all, it's been a successful run for the project, which almost never got off the ground. It was scheduled for a shuttle mission in February 1986, until the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch, killing all seven aboard, including teacher Sharon Christa McAuliffe, and throwing the space program into disarray.