Alliance Issues Strategies for High Schools

Mentors for Each Child and Project-Based Learning Among Them

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Following up on a series of high-profile proposals by federal and state policymakers for changing the nation’s high schools, a coalition of education groups issued its own framework here last week for helping all secondary students meet rigorous academic standards.

In its report, “A Call to Action: Transforming High School for All Youth,” the National High School Alliance outlines six core principles, and strategies for achieving them, to “ensure that all high-school-age students are ready for college, careers, and active civic participation.”

Educators and policymakers, the 10-page report says, must work to create personalized learning environments, foster academic engagement for all students, empower educators, hold leaders accountable, engage communities and youths, and establish an integrated system of standards, instruction, assessments, and supports. Such an undertaking will require a big financial commitment according to the report.

“This is not about fixing just the worst schools; we need to roll up our sleeves and rethink the purpose, design, and practice [of the high school institution],” said Naomi Housman, the alliance’s director.

The alliance recommends smaller high schools, an adult mentor for each student, project-based learning, and regular opportunities for staff development and teacher planning time. Moreover, high school leaders should monitor student-achievement data more closely, craft more cohesive dropout-prevention and -recovery initiatives, and offer accelerated-learning options.

Perkins Worries

The agenda is in line with goals of other high school improvement efforts, particularly the 10-point plan promoted by the National Governors Association at its summit on high schools earlier this year, according to Stephanie Sanford, a senior policy officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Seattle-based philanthropy, which has given more than $800 million to programs aimed at improving high school graduation and college-going rates, sponsored the high school alliance’s report. The plan is also aligned with the work of the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

“This is a revolutionary idea … that all kids should get an education that only top kids have gotten,” Ms. Sanford said at a news conference here last week. “The ‘Call to Action’ is an important contribution to our joint efforts.”

She and other speakers at the event, however, said they were worried that the Bush administration’s proposal for high schools could undermine the overall endeavor. President Bush has called for expanding some of the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act in high schools. He has also proposed eliminating the financing for the federal vocational and technical education program and redirecting it toward his $1.5 billion High School Initiative.

“High schools need support. … You can’t undercut other programs that also impact high schools,” said former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, a Democrat, who took over last month as the president of the Washington-based Alliance for Excellent Education, one of 40 groups in the high school alliance.

Critics complained earlier this year when the administration proposed eliminating the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, a major source of funding for high schools. But lawmakers have shown little appetite so far for dismantling the program. The U.S. Senate last month voted to reauthorize the Perkins Act, and a similar measure is pending in the House. In a letter to the bills’ sponsors last month, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings expressed her “strong opposition” to lawmakers’ proposals to reauthorize the law.

Vol. 24, Issue 32, Page 3

Published in Print: April 20, 2005, as Alliance Issues Strategies for High Schools
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