Personalized High School Experience
One of the reasons that today's high schools are not graduating all of their students prepared for the twenty-first century is that they are not designed to do so. Many of today's high schools still reflect the 1950's large, comprehensive design - one that had high schools functioning as giant sorting machines for America's students. One track was for those students bound for college and professional careers and another was for those bound for the manufacturing and agricultural jobs that were readily available in the industrial economy of the time.
Today's economy is much different and requires every student to have a set of twenty-first century skills and knowledge, regardless of whether they are heading to work or college. There are numerous secondary, postsecondary, and career options available to students. The American student body is increasingly diverse, with wide-ranging academic, cultural, linguistic, cognitive, and socioeconomic needs. And there is a growing consensus that all students-regardless of socioeconomic status-can succeed and should be expected to do so. Meanwhile, high school educators struggle to serve the needs of the future in a system designed to address the realities of the past.
Across the nation, researchers, educators, and concerned citizens are working to reform America's high schools and identify successful strategies. While there is no silver bullet, "personalization" is increasingly being cited as a core strategy for high school turnaround. Recent studies of high performing urban schools and evaluations of successful high school reform models have identified "personalization," along with instructional improvement, as one of the twin pillars of high school reform. Creating a personalized high school experience requires high expectations for all students, reliable information about school performance and students' needs and interests, the capacity to individualize instruction and support, and multiple pathways to a high school diploma.
There are many strategies to personalize secondary schools and create safe and supportive communities within middle and high schools, allowing students to build relationships with peers and adults that are conducive to teaching, learning, and success. Such efforts often involve rearranging the school structure to create more intimate environments such as small learning communities, ninth-grade transition programs, student advisories, and/or career academies. Students also benefit from an individualized academic planning process that students, parents, and school personnel utilize to help students articulate their own educational and career goals, and make the sounds educational decisions necessary to ensure their success. By tailoring curricula to reflect specific career or educational goals, adult advocates can work to keep students interested, engaged, and on track for success.
If every child is to graduate from high school prepared for what lies ahead, federal policy must leverage and support an individualized approach for every student, so that both the student path to the diploma and the efforts to turn around low-performing high schools are successful.
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