Expanding learning time and opportunities for students is not about adding something extra to the school day. It’s not about creating a program or one more initiative for a principal to manage.
It’s about helping schools develop new ways of doing business by working in partnership with communities to make the most of all the great assets we’ve built up—museums, universities, strong youth-serving organizations and civic-minded businesses—to help educators meet the needs of each student.
Thanks in part to Baltimore-based scholars including Robert Balfanz and others, we know what it takes to get struggling students through high school. A strong body of evidence shows that adolescents need to feel that the work they put into academics is relevant to whatever it is they dream of achieving in life. That’s one reason I’ve come to believe that states should require all students to earn at least one credit toward graduation through an accredited out-of-school learning experience.
This could be an apprenticeship or a meaningful internship. It could be allowing students to go to learn from professionals a skill, like lifeguarding, for a physical education credit. It could be supervised field work, technology-enabled learning, or service learning.
Moving away from “seat time” credits to a broader landscape of learning would change the roles of some educators. For example, we’d need teachers to take on the role of making sure internships give students credit-worthy opportunities to think critically and solve real-world problems (as opposed to running copies and getting coffee).
Building a new city-wide learning landscape for high school students is an undertaking that involves modernizing outdated education policies and procedures, developing new metrics of learning, developing online facilitation tools, and inviting the whole community to form learning partnerships. Under the leadership of Baltimore City Schools Chief Executive Andrés Alonso, however, the work is already underway, as the city invests in creative strategies to expand the time and ways students learn.
In a new report on A World of Learning: An ExpandED High School Approach, my TASC colleagues lay out a framework for high school improvement that I believe holds great promise for adaptation beyond New York. We convened national high school education leaders, analyzed available public funding streams and conducted a landscape review of promising high school redesign practices, focusing on New York City. We examined the approaches of 15 nonprofit intermediary organizations that are re-engineering New York City high schools, and working with universities, community arts organizations, and others to personalize education to meet the needs of all students. We also profiled several schools so that interested educators and district leaders could get into the details, and see what kind of results these community-linked schools are achieving.
We also sketched out what high school learning anytime and anywhere could look like for three theoretical students. Sara has completed most of her credits and is on track to graduate, but she needs to help support her family. Her public school has arranged for her to take a 7 AM class at the Y for which she gets a phys ed credit, and an independent study where she can earn credit for what she learns on the job.
Alex is struggling, but hasn’t yet dropped out. His high school builds on his love of sports by arranging for him to apprentice as a lifeguard while he keeps earning credits toward graduation.
Joe’s taken the most advanced academics available at his high school. He’s taking Algebra on a college campus, and drama criticism with a community arts organization.