This article focuses on some work supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York called Opportunity by Design: New High School Models for Student Success. With a goal of helping to increase the graduation rate of high schoolers and prepare them for the workforce, the project focused on experimenting with various types of innovative school designs in urban schools. While innovation can vary across models, the project’s founders concluded that there are 10 integrated principles that are indicators of effective high schools:
- Integrates positive youth development to optimize student engagement & effort
- Develops & deploys collective strengths
- Empowers & supports students through key transitions into & beyond high school
- Manages school operations efficiently & effectively
- Remains porous & connected
- Prioritizes mastery of rigorous standards aligned to college & career readiness
- Has a clear mission & coherent culture
- Maintains an effective human capital strategy aligned with school model & priorities
- Personalizes student learning to meet student needs
- Continuously improves its operations & model
The study focused on small schools that adopted various personalized learning models, which are often also referred to as mastery learning, proficiency learning, or competency-based learning.
As indicators of the project’s success, researchers focused mainly on a couple of metrics:
- Calculation of four-year and six-year high school graduation and dropout rates
- Distribution of entering high school students by NAEP math scores, grade level, and number of years of a 1.25x teacher needed
Current data suggest an improvement in graduation rates of students whose school participated in one of the innovative designs focusing on personalized learning and less on the traditional model using the Common Core Standards. In addition, not surprisingly those students starting out the farthest behind need the support of more teachers for a longer period of time.
After talking with students, teachers, and school leaders, researchers concluded a continued need for professional development training, high-quality instructional materials, and better communication. In short, personalized learning is not as easy as it sounds—there are many moving parts and an effective system is birthed from a comprehensive, cohesive systems design.
While interesting, the report is just a starting point—a springboard for further conversation, experimentation, data collection, and reflection. There are many more ways in which to triangulate valuable data, and we need to track the success of this project over time in order to determine its efficacy.
Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.