4 Ways to Rethink High School Education

Recently, Laurene Powell Jobs announced a $50 million dollar project to “create high schools with new approaches to education.” Although this is an amazing opportunity to apply much-needed resources to improving our nation’s schools, I hope we do not repeat the mistakes made by previous huge tech-based education donations, such as implementing policies with no supporting data to help low-income, Latino and Black students succeed. Laurene Powell Jobs is off to a great start, with plans to take and evaluate the suggestions of those who study and research education. I hope she also hears from parents, students and those who spend significant amounts of time in the classroom and in schools as well. With our education system currently failing, the time is now to establish policies and procedures that are backed by experience, research, data and the communities that schools serve. Based on my own experiences in schools, in the classroom and conducting education research, I have a few suggestions for Jobs that support her goal of creating more effective high schools, especially for those most affected by the opportunity gap:
  1. Creating experiential learning and internships. Typically, schools that serve low-income and Black and Latino students are more likely to have inexperienced teachers, fewer materials, dilapidated buildings and less effective curriculum. There is another layer to the opportunity gap: cultural capital such as exposure to art, food, museums and successful people. If I am a high-school student, how would I know that I wanted to be a dentist if I’ve never been inside a dentist’s office? Students can be exposed to careers through apprenticeships and internships and integrating that into the school curriculum. In a study done on the importance of internships for high schools students, the data revealed that company leaders believe students needed internships in high school in order to be considered or prepared for internships or jobs in the future. The study also revealed that companies are willing to partner with high schools to give students opportunities and that internships completed in high school are likely to turn into jobs in the future.
  2. Boost students’ writing skills. I have worked in two very different types of middle schools which served two very different populations. However, these schools shared one thing: by the end of eighth grade, both middle schools only required one written paper by the end of the school year. I fear this practice is common not only in middle school but also in high school. There is so much power in the written word, and students are graduating from high schools without the skills needed to communicate effectively through writing. Studies have found that many students enter college without developing their writing skills.Without these skills, they will find it more difficult to be successful in college and in their lives. High schools should provide ample opportunities for students to learn how to conduct analysis, write critically about a problem, develop a solution and revise their writing based on feedback.
  3. Developing problem solving and critical thinking skills. There is nothing more useful today than having the ability to think critically and problem solve. Yet only 6 percent of 12th-graders can make critical judgments about texts. Our school system is modeled after a factory system, which is no longer relevant. Consequently, textbooks and curriculum are largely ineffective and not applicable to students’ lives today. High-school students should have opportunities to think critically about the things that they enjoy. To the student who loves to play video games, as educators we should be asking them to research their favorite video game and challenging them to explain how it works and ways they could improve the game.
  4. Using technology more effectively in the classroom. One of the many things we take for granted is the ability to use technology effectively. Supplying students with laptops or tablets is just part of integrating technology into the classroom. While computer science classes should be offered to students in high school, there are many other ways to invite tech into the classroom and into schools. Students can be taught to use technology to gather data, conduct research, hone their skills and express their creativity. Teachers should have a good understanding of how to use technology to enhance lessons, improve student engagement and track student progress. Outside of the classroom, school administrators should have access to and training on the best data systems that enable them to more effectively manage school resources, track faculty and staff performance and communicate with the school community.
While it should be applauded that people like Mark Zuckerberg and Laurene Powell Jobs want to invest in our children, it is imperative that they apply the lessons we have learned from past successes and failures. Investors in our education system should use existing data to inform their decisions, and include the community that these schools exist in at every level of their decision-making processes. Top-down interventions can be regarded as disingenuous, out of touch and meant to silence the voices of the communities that are most impacted by these decisions. Outside actors cannot replace the wisdom of those who attend, support and are served by these schools.  
Kayla Patrick is an education policy researcher with a deep interest in using data-based analysis to inform U.S. education policy and practices, especially to improve the lives of underserved children of color.
Kayla Patrick is a senior education policy analyst with a deep interest in using data-based analysis to inform U.S. education policy and practices, especially to improve the lives of underserved children of color. Her expertise includes school discipline policies and college and career readiness. Kayla worked at the National Women’s Law Center, where she conducted research and data analysis on ...

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