Elements of a Successful High School
|Learn What You Can Do To Improve Your Community's High School|
Regardless of their plans, all of the nation's young people need high-level knowledge and skills to achieve success in a rapidly changing world of technological advances and international competitiveness. And every American has a stake in their success, whether they have school-age children of their own or not.
How effective is your community's high school in educating its students?
You don't have to be a school superintendent or member of Congress to help the six million students most at risk of failing to graduate from high school. Drawing from the work of leading researchers and educators from around the country, the Alliance for Excellent Education has identified ten key elements that every high school should have in place to ensure that all its students are successful. The list includes challenging classes, a safe learning environment, and skilled teachers. Whether you are a parent seeking a stronger education for your child, a business owner in need of a well-trained workforce, or a concerned citizen joining with others to improve schools, this checklist can help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your community schools and guide you in determining the actions you can take to help improve them.
All students must learn the advanced skills that are the key to success in college and in the 21st century workplace. Every student should take demanding classes in the core subjects of English, history, science, and math; and no student should ever get a watered-down course of study. Further, students should also be given the opportunity to earn industry certification or some college credit while in high school through programs such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or those offered through a local college or university.
Personal Attention for All Students
Every high school should be small enough—or divided into small enough units—to allow teachers and staff to get to know all students as individuals and to respond to their specific learning needs. By the ninth grade, student should have a detailed plan for graduation—identifying the specific courses they must take, opportunities they should pursue, and extra help they need in order to succeed in high school and beyond. And every student should receive frequent and ongoing support from at least one academic advisor throughout their high school years.
Extra Help for Those Who Need It
Every high school should have a system in place to identify kids as soon as they start to struggle in reading, math, or any core subject, and every school should reserve time and resources for the immediate help those kids need to stay on course.
Bringing the Real World to the Classroom
High schools should help students make the connection between book learning and the skills needed to be successful in life. Students must develop the work habits, character, and sense of personal responsibility needed to succeed in school, at work, and in society. As part of their class work, students should have opportunities to design independent projects, conduct experiments, solve open-ended problems, and be involved in activities that connect school to the rest of the world.
Family and Community Involvement
Students thrive when their high schools encourage positive learning relationships among families, educators, faith groups, civic organizations, businesses and other members of the community. Parents should have many chances to visit the school building, talk with teachers and staff, voice concerns, share ideas, serve as volunteers, and suggest ways to improve the school. And school leaders should reach out to their neighbors by attending community events and forming partnerships with local organizations in order to increase effectiveness and tap additional resources.
A Safe Learning Environment
Every high school must guarantee the safety of its students, teachers, staff, and visitors, and every school should be kept free of drugs, weapons, and gangs. School leaders should build a climate of trust and respect, they should encourage peaceful solutions to conflict, and they should respond directly to any bullying, verbal abuse, or other threats.
Every high school teacher should know well the subjects they teach and should know well how to teach all kinds of students, from all kinds of backgrounds. New teachers should get the guidance and mentoring they need to be successful in the classroom. All teachers should have enough time to plan lessons, carefully review student performance, and continuously improve their teaching.
Every high school needs a skillful principal, one who supervises personnel effectively, manages finances capably, and keeps the organization running smoothly. Every school also needs a strong educational leader (this could be the principal, a senior teacher, or another staff member), to define a vision of academic excellence, work with teachers to develop an engaging and coherent curriculum, and serve as a mentor and role model for teachers and students alike.
Every high school should provide all students and teachers with the books, computers, laboratory equipment, technology, and other resources they need to be successful. And every school should maintain safe, clean facilities that are fit for teaching and learning.
All community members should have easy access to information that gives a clear, straightforward picture of how well the school is serving all of its students, including those from every income level, ethnic group, and racial background. Some of the key pieces of information include a school’s graduation requirements, graduation and dropout rates, and student performance on state tests.