Ups, Downs of 10 High Schools Pursuing Reform Are Chronicled in Report

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A new report sketches portraits of 10 high schools that are making progress in transforming themselves for the better.

Participate in our new interactive TOWN MEETING; an electronic roundtable on improving schools

The author of the study, Gordon Cawelti, a research consultant for the Arlington, Va.-based Educational Research Service, selected the schools from among 3,380 high schools nationwide that he surveyed in 1994. They were among the 10 percent to 15 percent of schools he found that were making comprehensive, multiple changes.

The schools range from Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, Calif., a 4,000-student school that has been divided into separate academies, to Hatboro-Horsham High School in Horsham, Pa., where the staff is moving to a block schedule and the school is forging links with the local community.

The others are: Creston (Iowa) High School; Fairdale (Ky.) High School; Gloucester (Va.) High School; Horizon High School, Thornton, Colo.; Noble High School, Berwick, Maine; Reynoldsburg (Ohio) High School; Wasson High School, Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Westside (Neb.) High School.

'Positive' Findings

The study says the changes taking place at all of the schools focus on three common elements--high curriculum standards, effective teaching strategies, and assessments.

To support the changes, the schools are also improving technology, stepping up staff development, redesigning working arrangements, and involving the community.

Surveys taken at the schools show that the reforms are getting high ratings from students and teachers.

Most students, for example, agreed with the statements "Teachers are willing to provide me with extra help when I need it," and "The daily schedule helps me get a lot out of my classes."

Teachers especially favored block-scheduling arrangements, which almost every school in the study has instituted, and they credited the reforms with broadening their teaching strategies.

And the longer the reforms were in place, the more positive were the teachers' and students' attitudes.

On the downside, however, most students also said that they could still get by with minimal effort. And only 57 percent of the teachers said they now had more time to plan for their classes.

Evidence on whether the reforms were leading to improvements in student achievement was harder to come by. Where possible, Mr. Cawelti looked at scores on state or national assessments, attendance and dropout rates, and students' postsecondary plans.

"The data here tend to be positive for all 10 schools, with only isolated cases of level or declining achievement," he writes.

For More Information:

Copies of "Effects of High School Restructuring: Ten Schools at Work" (Stock #NA-0238) are available for $28 each from the ERS, 2000 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, Va. 22201. Add $3.50 or 10 percent of the total sale, whichever is greater, to cover postage and handling.

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