Duncan Announces Ambitious High School Redesign Program

Positive changes may be on the horizon for public schools. As the 2012-13 school year winds down, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are delivering news about changes to schools around the United States. Take Part writer Vanessa Romo reports that President Obama recently kicked off the start ConnectED, a program that gives all US public schools access to high-speed Internet. Now Duncan has announced a $300 million competitive grant program called High School Redesign that would invest in programs to advance career and technical education.

The Redesign program intends to build a solid foundation of strong academics and instructional practices that better connect students’ education to the real world. Students would be provided with internship opportunities with outside business and organizations and would also receive personalized advisement from mentors, teachers and counselors.

School districts looking to improve science, technology, engineering and math curricula would be eligible for grants, as well as schools who foster partnerships with non profit groups, businesses and higher education institutions. Districts with high poverty rates and those in rural areas will receive special consideration for aid.

Other attributes of the program could include prolonged learning hours that are not limited to traditional classroom time. Also, it is proposed that schools experiment with eliminating grade levels and instead group students by their proficiency in subjects.

The program is modeled after a project-based learning charter network, High Tech High Schools in San Diego.

“Our students recognize that the work they’re doing has meaning beyond the walls of the classroom,” Colleen Green, director of High Tech High International said.

Students at High Tech High are required to make an “Adult World Connection” through academic internships. The school partners with technology companies like Qualcomm, nonprofit groups, and local hospitals to offer students 3-4 week internships that Green said “go beyond getting coffee and making copies.”

In these schools, students of all ability levels work alongside each other, but individually, in the same classroom. Honors students sit next to special education students learning from one teacher and two academic coaches who assist the students at their own pace.

Around 98% of High Tech High School students go on to attend college.

The main concern of this program is the worry that it will have a negative impact on test scores because the program is being redesigned while the tests are not.

Green said teachers are hoping the Common Core Standards that will be implemented in 2014 will reflect student growth more accurately.

“Because it’s a critical thinking approach, it may show that there’s a better connection for our students.”