Principals’ Group Offers ‘Field Guide’ For High Schools

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — February 25, 2004 3 min read

High school principals must set the course toward elevating secondary education by promoting collaborative leadership with teachers, personalizing learning for students, and advocating stronger curriculum, instruction, and assessment, says a report released last week by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

“Breaking Ranks II: Strategies for Leading High School Reform,” billed as a “field guide” to improving the nation’s secondary schools, provides strategies and resources to help principals implement the recommendations outlined in the Reston, Va.-based organization’s initial 1996 report.

“Breaking Ranks II: Strategies for Leading High School Reform,” from the NASSP is free to high school principals. Additional copies are available for order. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“All high school principals, not just a few ‘early reformers,’ must accept responsibility for ensuring that all students meet high standards and for taking the steps to make it happen,” the report says. Relying solely on principals, though, will not lead to widespread change, it concludes. Instead, leadership teams should be formed throughout schools, adults should work to strengthen relationships among themselves and with students, and a solid core curriculum should be presented in a variety of ways to engage all students.

Some experts praised the report for taking on the pervasive problems in secondary education, such as large, impersonal schools, the overloaded curriculum, and a traditional class schedule.

“The report contains many bold and necessary reforms, from high standards for all kids, to eliminating tracking, to reorganizing schools into smaller, more personal environments,” said Thomas Toch, the director of the policy-forums program of the Washington- based National Center on Education and the Economy and the author of the book High Schools on a Human Scale. “What NASSP needs to do now is employ its considerable organizational influence to make these reforms happen.”

Secondary Shift

“Breaking Ranks II” is one of several recent reports that strive to focus more attention on the need for improving secondary education at a time when more schools and students are being held accountable for their performance.

After years of concentrating on the early grades—particularly in the areas of reading and mathematics instruction— policymakers, scholars, and educators have begun to turn more attention to the secondary level. They have pointed to persistent dropout rates and disappointing results on national and international assessments as evidence that high schools are not preparing enough students for the rigors of higher education or the workforce.

The National Center on Education and the Economy, the National Governors Association, the National Research Council, and other organizations have produced reports on high school achievement and related issues or launched initiatives to tackle the problems.

Case Studies

Written in collaboration with the Education Alliance at Brown University, “Breaking Ranks II” also incorporates case studies of schools that have been successful in implementing some of the 82 recommendations from the first “Breaking Report” report. It outlines detailed strategies for improving high school leadership, school culture, and the academic program. The back of the report includes worksheets for evaluating a school’s climate, academic rigor, and the leadership skills of administrators and teachers. Guides for devising personalized learning plans and advisory programs are also included.

The report “focuses on the well-established facts that many teenagers are disengaged from the hard intellectual work expected by their schools and the larger community and unprepared for the harsh world beyond those schools,” Theodore R. Sizer, the founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, writes in the foreword.