Carnegie Supports New High Schools that Recuperate & Accelerate

Carnegie Corporation launched a $15 million grant program for next generation high schools and a report that details the rationale: Opportunity by Design: New High School Models for Student Success.

“Schools need to change very dramatically,” said Program Director Leah Hamilton. “Every high school needs to get better at recuperative work as well as pathways for acceleration.”  The foundation is supportive of high college and career ready strategies but concerned about the “dual demand” of lifting standards and helping students catch up.

Hamilton knows what she’s talking about. Prior to joining the Corporation she was the Executive Director of The New York City Office of Multiple Pathways to Graduation. They did groundbreaking work with Parthenon evaluating the effectiveness of options available to over-aged, under-credited students.  Hamilton and I served as judges for the Next Generation Learning Challenges–she appreciates the importance of new high school development.

Michele Cahill, VP of Education at Carnegie, and I started making high school grants together in 2000. We shared an interest in schools that engaged and propelled low income students to college. We learned a lot in several rounds of grants for new and improved schools. Michele spent four and half years leading strategy and partnership work in Joel Klein’s administration. Now back at Carnegie, Michele and her team are among the most thoughtful in the sector about the challenges of poverty and the opportunity at the intersection of youth development and learning technologies.

Hamilton is convinced that “We won’t get more kids to Common Core expectations without personalization.”  She acknowledges that charter networks are “organizations designed to support new school development” and are more nimble than districts in “rethinking school” and “starting from a different place.” For those reasons, they have provided support to the Charter School Growth Fund.

But the grant announced today is about districts. “Districts are where the kids are,” said Hamilton. “If we want to confront the equity issue, we need to help districts design high schools that build on the evidence base we have and what is emerging from personalized technology space.”

When I asked Leah about the wisdom of giving grants to districts given revolving door leadership and sine wave board politics, she said they “don’t want districts to do this themselves.”  The grants announced today also launch JoEllen Lynch’s new support group Springpoint, incubated by the National Center for Civic Innovation. I met Lynch in 2000 when she was running an amazing alternative high school. She just finished a two year stint advising the state on its Race to the Top grants. She will provide great and grounded advice to an initial cohort of 3-5 district grantees. Each district will also engage a local partner.

“We are calling for new high school model design as one of the necessary responses to the challenge of implementing the common core in high schools,” said Hamilton. About Opportunity by Design, Leah said, “To build that case, we share some of the analysis we commissioned from McKinsey & Co that models what graduation and dropout rates might look like should common core be implemented absent an effort to create schools with the power to both recuperate and accelerate student learning.”

The report outlines 10 design principles (see page 9):

  1. Integrates positive youth development to optimize student engagement & effort
  2. Prioritizes mastery of rigorous standards aligned to college & career readiness

  3. Continuously improves its operations & model

  4. Develops & deploys collective strengths

  5. Manages school operations efficiently & effectively

  6. Maintains an effective human capital strategy aligned with school model & priorities

  7. Empowers & supports student through key transitions into & beyond high school

  8. Remains porous & connected

  9. Has a clear mission and coherent culture

  10. Personalizes student learning to meet student needs

Grantees are likely to come from the three dozen urban districts in the CRPE Portfolio District Network–cities that understand the importance of new school development.

The report also “shares some of the evidence of successful school design efforts with documented impact on graduation rate improvement at some scale,” said Hamilton. “The MDRC study of the NYC small schools of choice is highlighted as is the expansion of the North Carolina early college high school model.”

Add Carnegie to the list of foundations supporting blended learning models. This thoughtful grant program will build capacity and support that will result in a couple dozen great next generation district high schools.  Watch and learn.


Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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