Fact Sheet: Redesigning America's High Schools

  • twitter
  • Facebook
  • google+

Editor's Note: Today, Secretary Duncan will highlight President Obama's High School Redesign initiative during a roundtable event at Aviation High School in New York City. More details can be found on the Department's website.

The fact sheet below highlights how the High School Redesign initiative will challenge high schools and their partners to rethink teaching and learning and put in place learning models that are rigorous, relevant, and better focused on real-world experiences.

Meeting President Obama's goal to lead the world in college attainment by the end of this decade demands a new investment and vision to transform America's high schools to prepare students for innovative and global economy.

While American 15-year-olds rank in the middle of the pack internationally on indicators of science, reading, and math, America's international peers are enhancing the rigor and relevance of experiences offered to students in their middle and high school years. Many nations offer the opportunity for students to enroll in educational programs that develop knowledge and skills needed for success in college and in a competitive workforce. Today's global economy requires new approaches to teaching and learning in America's high schools to foster problem solving and analysis, to support creativity and collaboration, and to connect student learning directly to the real world. Students learn best when they are engaged in complex projects and tasks aligned with their interests and when they work with others through practical examples and case studies that engage them in rigorous academics and in the application of knowledge.

President Obama's High School Redesign initiative will encourage America's school districts and their partners to use existing federal, state and local resources to transform the high school experience for America's youth through a whole school redesign effort. This effort will challenge high schools and their partners to rethink teaching and learning and put in place learning models that are rigorous, relevant, and better focused on real-world experiences. These reforms will incorporate personalized learning and career and college exploration and ensure that all students graduate with college-level coursework or college credit, as well as with career-related experiences or competencies.

The High School Redesign initiative will promote a rethinking of the high school learning experience, and challenge schools to:

  • Redesign academic content and instructional practices to align with postsecondary education and careers and to foster deep understanding and mastery, with student-centered learning in a culture of high expectations.
  • Personalize learning opportunities to support the educational needs and interests of individual students, optimize the pace of learning, and customize content and practices for students to master challenging academic content and pursue their interests.
  • Provide academic and wrap-around support services for those students who need them, such as tutoring, mentoring, and comprehensive supports, so that all learners—including low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities—can successfully graduate and transition smoothly into postsecondary learning and adulthood.
  • Provide high-quality career and college exploration and counseling for students on postsecondary educational options, including education and training requirements for careers, college success skills, and financial aid options available for postsecondary education and training.
  • Offer opportunities to earn postsecondary credit while still in high school through college-level coursework, such as dual enrollment, advanced placement courses, or other postsecondary learning opportunities.
  • Provide career-related experiences or competencies such as organized internships or mentorships; project- or problem-based learning; real-world challenges developed in consultation with employers or service organizations; and structured work-based learning opportunities.
  • Strategically use learning time in more meaningful ways, which could include effective application of technology, redesigning school calendars, and competency-based progression.
  • Provide evidence-based professional development to deepen educators' skills, support collaboration and expand a comprehensive system of student support.

Redesigned high schools will move away from the traditional notion of seat time and focus instead on the knowledge and skills needed to successfully transition from high school to college and careers. Changes to the current high school structure and experience will require collaboration and contributions from a number of partners from both the public and private sectors, including institutions of higher education, non-profits, business and industry.

The High School Redesign initiative would support competitive grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) in partnership with institutions of higher education and other entities, such as non-profits, community-based organizations, government agencies, and business or industry-related organizations to help schools apply academic concepts to real world challenges. Partnerships and projects will connect high school experiences with relevant business, community, and postsecondary partners in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, while enhancing for students living in high poverty and rural communities. Special consideration will be given to partnerships with employers that provide students at participating schools with career-related experiences or help students attain career-related credentials.

Promising Examples of Redesigned High Schools

Several transformative high school designs incorporate innovative approaches to teaching and learning that lead to higher academic outcomes, greater student engagement, and future student success:

Manor New Tech High School: President Obama recently visited Manor New Tech High School outside of Austin, Texas. Manor New Tech High School is part of the New Tech Network, a network of 100 schools across 18 states that embrace nontraditional approaches to deliver positive outcomes for students using project-based and student-centered, inquiry-based learning as guiding principles. New Tech schools focus on STEM instruction and incorporate technology as a central element to teaching and learning, providing every student access to a computer and network to encourage collaborative learning. Student learning is assessed based on the mastery of academic content along with progress towards achieving skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communications, and creativity. Evaluations and digital portfolios allow a comprehensive understanding of students' accomplishments and provide parents and teachers guidance on how to individualize each student's academic program.

Characteristically rooted in rich partnerships with higher education, businesses, local technology companies, and the community, Manor New Tech was founded in collaboration with the Texas High School Project, the Texas Governor's Office, and Samsung Semi-Conductor and a $4 million through a Texas STEM grant program. These assets provide support opportunities for students at Manor New Tech schools to earn college credit, to visit laboratories and workplaces, and to engage in mentorships with businesses and community leaders. Today, 84 percent of graduates are enrolled in college—56 percent of students are first in their family to attend college.

Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH): The Pathways in Technology Early College High School, a Brooklyn-based middle and high school, was established in 2011 as a partnership between IBM, the New York City Schools, and the City University of New York's College of Technology. In 2017, the school will graduate its first class of students who—over six years of STEM study and training—earn a joint high school diploma and associate's degree in computer information systems and electromechanical engineering technology. P-TECH's rigorous course of academic study was co-designed with IBM, and the company has invested $500,000 to provide software support and mentoring and internship opportunities for every P-TECH student with IBM and CUNY mentor.

Reynoldsburg High School in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, hosts four interest-based "academies" that provide hands-on learning experiences in highly personalized environments that are aligned with students' interests. Reynoldsburg recently redesigned the high school to enable greater student choice among the BELL Academy (Business, Education, Law and Leadership); the Health Science Academy; the eSTEM (Environmental Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy; and the Encore (Art, Communication and Design) Academy. Mastery learning ensures students gain essential knowledge and skills and advance through personalized learning pathways. Strong partnerships with local universities, health providers, local and state government agencies and businesses enhance student learning and expand enriching opportunities. A key component to Reynoldsburg's personalized approach is offering students and parents choices among these specialized instructional models, while maintaining equitable access to the district's programs.

The High Tech High network of schools is an outgrowth of a highly successful school developed in 2000 in San Diego, Calif., through a partnership with civic and business leaders, including Qualcomm and the Business Roundtable. The schools employ small school sizes, openness of the physical facility, personalization through advisory, an emphasis on integrated, project-based learning and student exhibitions, and a requirement that all students complete internships and other field-work in the community. High Tech High incorporates four core approaches to their model, including: (1) personalization, through which teachers encourage students to explore their personal interests in core academic areas and to maintain a digital, on-line portfolio of their work; (2) adult-world connections, including semester-long academic internships and shadowing opportunities; (3) rigorous curriculum for all students; and (4) team teaching and planning to develop projects and schedules for every 5-70 students. Students outperform their peers in other San Diego schools on the California academic assessments, with high rates of participation in advanced STEM courses, including physics, chemistry and advanced mathematics.

Loving High School is located in a rural area of New Mexico, and between 2004 and 2009, the school boasted an average college attendance rate of 60 percent—almost double the national average among rural schools. Loving High School offers dual-credit courses (75 percent of students take advantage of this opportunity) and has gained national notice for its programs in career and technical education. The school specializes in architecture and construction and—through private and state grants—students are given hand-on experience in building a home. The school also collaborates with nearby schools via videoconferencing—another solution to the challenge of isolation that many rural schools face.