Senior Fellow, Haberman International Policy Institute in Education
Fast Break is an intensive computer-assisted program that helps participants move ahead to career-entry positions or college. This 320-hour program brings students' math, reading, and communications skills to workplace/college entry standards in only 8-12 weeks. It provides participants with basic computer skills, and it teaches the habits, discipline and attitudes that will make them successful at both work and school. The team-oriented environment simulates a high performance workplace where people work hard to improve their collective as well as individual performance.
Focus: HOPE, a major non-profit agency in Detroit, developed the model and has been implementing it for 18 years.Following Colin Powell's visit and favorable review of Focus: HOPE in 1993 (Dept of Defense has considerable investment there), the National Science Foundation as part of President Clinton's Technology Reinvestment (TRP) Projects supported its replication in Los Angeles. Barry Stern was the Principal Investigator and Project Director of this 3-year demonstration. The basic approach was adopted in 2000 by Michigan and Alabama to assist their workforce development efforts. Michigan spent $5 million to demonstrate this model in several sites, some of which continue despite the expiration of state funding in 2003.
Until now the target group has been out-of-school, low income young adults seeking jobs or entry into college. The model is beginning to show promise for high school students as well. An alternative high school in the Detroit area successfully deployed the model as a vehicle to return students to the regular school program; and Focus: HOPE has had great success in using it to improve the college and work readiness of a number of Detroit high school students. The model appears to be particularly successful in:
- Improving the academic achievement of adolescent boys/young men and at-risk youth
- Helping more students benefit from higher education by significantly improving their math and reading skills
- Reducing dropouts among college entrants in the first year
- Providing employers with a supply of entry-level workers with decent basic skills and work habits
The fast-paced, every-minute-counts program usually runs 5-8 hours a day for 8-12 weeks. In addition to the program's intensity, success factors include the challenging cross-disciplinary curriculum, faculty teaming and small group coaching, emphases on career guidance, workplace discipline and time management, daily feedback on class and individual performance, the use of courseware (e.g. PLATO, NovaNet, KeyTrain) to manage instruction and reporting, and most importantly, the way Fast Break blends the "soft" teamwork, customer service and interpersonal skills with the "hard" reading, math, and computer skills. The results are outstanding: 2-3 grade-level improvements (1-2 WorkKeys levels) in math and reading; 80% placement into career-entry positions or college without needing remedial courses. Employers say graduates learn fast, show up on time, work well on teams and when unsupervised, respect co-workers, and truly appreciate their jobs. Many students who did not believe they were college material learn otherwise and enroll.
Fast Break works because it touches all aspects of "human capital" (social, cultural, moral, cognitive, aspirational); it is not just another narrow skill building program. Students and faculty form a high performance work team that stays together all day long and requires members to improve their collective as well as individual performance. Unlike the traditional "assembly line" high school that bores most students with its regimen of 50-minute classes in traditional academic "silos", Fast Break students become quickly engaged in the cross-disciplinary, team taught curriculum that acknowledges their different learning styles and rewards them for individual and group accomplishments. Students do well because they understand how each day's lessons relate to their aspirations and because they enjoy the fast-paced yet nurturing learning environment.
Another encouraging outcome is that the model has proven to be excellent professional development for the teachers themselves. They learn to function in a team environment with other instructors in the classroom at the same time. Moreover, by teaching others they tend to improve their own basic and thinking skills, and they became adept at using software to manage instruction. Since staff must work each day with several software programs to deliver the model, they become more confident in their technological skills and thus have greater desire to use them to assist instruction.
Typically the program is delivered by community-based agencies that are sufficiently flexible to implement the intensive schedule.Indeed, the intensity is a prime reason for the program's success in that it conveys a sense of urgency and provides sufficient time to learn and practice basic skills, build proper work/study habits, and apply learning to solve practical problems. Concentrated time together also facilitates opportunities for students to engage in team learning, and to receive personal attention and counseling. These features, in turn, help create a bond among students and staff.
There are a number of implementation issues that a high school would have to resolve in the course of adapting this model. For example: school scheduling, teacher workload/vacation scheduling, awarding academic credit, and deciding which courseware to use. Also, a district must determine where to position Fast Break (e.g., 8th-9th grade unit of instruction to improve readiness for high school, 12th grade transition-to-work-or-college program, summer school program, alternative education program, etc.).
Experience with Fast Break in Los Angeles and several Michigan cities suggests the importance of positioning it as an accelerated program not a remedial one—that is, as the "place to go" for students who want career-entry jobs, a head start on college, or growth opportunities with their employer. Employers and colleges who get the graduates would be able to begin their technical training at a higher level.
It is worth noting that the U.S. spends billions to remedy the skill deficits of those who leave our public schools, to say nothing of the need to deal with youths who become delinquent because they do not have the skills and mindsets to earn a living.Unfortunately, most remedial programs have embarrassingly low learning rates, whether alternative education for high school students, developmental education for community college students, or adult literacy programs. These programs produce minimal learning because they are not sufficiently intensive, integrated, or demanding. Moreover, they tend to be irrelevant to student career aspirations and workplace expectations.
The Haberman International Policy Institute in Education (HIPIE) provides training and technical assistance to implement the model, and to work with businesses, schools and colleges to properly position it. Several of us have been involved in getting this new model off the ground. We have selected, trained and supervised staff, procured the software and equipment, arranged the classroom site to facilitate optimal learning, placed students in jobs or college, and generated evaluation data. Additionally, we can expedite roll out, since we developed in Michigan a curriculum manual, operations manual and other training materials that could be adapted to the needs of the organization.
Once an institution correctly positions its program with the proper incentives for staff and students alike, HIPIE could help select and train the staff and then implement the program in only 2-3 months.After initial staff training, site preparation and student recruitment, another 5-6 months of technical assistance is normally required to ensure the model is being delivered properly.
Publicizing the Accelerated Learning Model
HIPIE has developed a couple of "road shows" to not only publicize Fast Break, but also to introduce school authorities to a set of principles they might wish to consider as they strive to improve their institutions. These include:
·½ day seminar on REDESIGNING HIGH SCHOOLS and CURRICULA TO MEET 21st CENTURY LEARNING STANDARDS. Along with a tour of the most effective redesign strategies in the U.S. today, the seminar focuses on accelerated learning principles that truly engage students and connect them with the world. Additionally, the seminar features the Fast Break program, its benefits and costs, and alternative ways to incorporate it into the high school. Seminar content and methods obviously would vary with the nature of the audience (e.g. executive staff, board members, faculty, etc.).
·Full day workshop that subsumes the above and adds hands-on group activities to demonstrate some of Fast Break's key features. Barry Stern and Bill Stierle conduct the workshop. Bill worked with Barry in delivering the model in Los Angeles, and he trained the Michigan adopters of the model. Bill is President of Corporate Culture Development, a consulting company in California
If the idea of 2-3 grade-levels in 2-3 months appeals, we would be delighted present this model to your school stakeholders. Fees depend on the extent to which the seminar or workshop is customized to the particular locality, the size of the audience (materials needed), and the number of presenters involved.
Barry E. Stern, Ph.D., Senior Fellow
Haberman International Policy Institute in Education (www.hipie.org, www.habermanfoundation.org)
Phone/Fax: (540) 751-0601Bsels@aol.com
Consulting services in educational management, workforce development, strategic planning and systems design.
Published February 15, 2009
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