What's Next for our Nation's High Schools?
Numerous topics emerged, or maybe better stated, re-emerged during the White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools, held November 10 in Washington, D.C. The matters discussed by President Obama, students, educators, philanthropists and entrepreneurs that I found most intriguing were the achievement gap, brain science and community-based schools. Although none of these topics are ground breaking or new, there is a renewed energy surrounding these issues that will push them to the forefront of conversations in the world of education.
Achievement Gap: One interesting angle I heard during the Summit was attributed to a student who defined the problem not as an achievement gap but as an engagement gap. Students are not fully engaged in their high school experience because that experience is not organized in a way that allows participants to feel like active participants. The high volume of students falling behind, and the unwarranted number of students dropping out before graduation, support this notion of a lack of engagement.
To fix the achievement/engagement gap issue, educators and policy makers must sit back for a moment and consider the solution from a student’s perspective. If done honestly and thoroughly, the view will provide for an innovative model that will re-consider every aspect of our educational system.
Brain Science: The human brain is an extraordinary masterpiece that is able to evolve and adapt over time to the circumstances it is put in, sometimes called neuroplasticity. This ability to adapt is especially prevalent in children and similar to creativity, tends to dissipate with age. Adults who are making the decisions regarding changes in our education system do not have as great of an ability to adapt to new circumstances. I am not proposing that students should have full reign to do what they want, as we all know the chaos that might ensue from such a system. I am suggesting that the policy makers, who are adults, need to empathetically consider the learners in their schools as they consider the needed changes in the future.
Community-based Schools: The concept of community -based schools is not necessarily one of just location and neighborhood. This idea is intended to align the attributes and resources of an area to the programs being offered within the walls of the educational building. It should encompass both bringing the community into the school as experts and safely engaging students into their community businesses and networks.
These hands-on experiences, if done correctly, provide two very important outcomes. First, students better understand the applicability of what they are learning in real-life situations, and second, the experience connects a sometimes very un-connected community to the schools in the area. Both the students and the community develop reciprocal relationships and become invested in each other. That level of transparency and fluidity between a school and its surrounding community is invaluable.
My hope is the White House Summit on Next Generation Schools elevates the conversation about these key topics. Again, these are not new issues. DLR Group K-12 teams engage in detailed conversations about these issues with School Districts across the country every day. Our task is to elevate the urgency of the discussion at the national level and activate a unified effort to improve every school across the United States.