Next-Gen High Schools

There’s never been a better time to transform a classroom or open a new school.
This month we visited reinvented active learning classrooms and academies in El Paso (pictured right) and saw new blended schools in Oakland.

We just released a paper featuring examples of deeper, project-based STEM in Harmony Public Schools. They used a Race to the Top grant to incorporate project-based learning and some cool maker labs (like the one below in Austin) into their personalized learning approach. The 46 school network serves 30,000 students–and they put them on stage and publish their work.
We’re excited about 10 networks (supporting 675 schools) piloting personalized project-based learning. We think microschools are a big opportunity and love seeing small academies opening in big traditional high schools.

Next Gen Trends

New school energy is being driven by eight important trends:

While a policy opening is contributing to space for innovation, it’s teachers and leaders investing new learning environments that are providing most of the energy, and school networks and funders are providing support.

School Networks

School networks are one of the most important innovations in modern era of U.S. K-12 education. Charter management networks like Summit Public Schools get all the headlines but networks supporting district schools have achieved similar scale and doing some interesting work. For example:

  • NAF supports 667 career academies and is innovating on work skills certification;
  • New Tech Network is 200 schools strong and is updating their platform to support personalized project-based learning. In this podcast, we chat with the New Tech Team about what New Tech High got right almost 20 years ago, and why the network has been so successful while other replication and expansion efforts have stalled.
  • EL Education has 152 project-based school partners and is innovating on curriculum materials.
  • Great Schools Partnership supports a network of 111 innovative proficiency-based high schools in New England. Their advocacy support for proficiency-based diplomas and higher education acceptance of proficiency-based transcripts has produced a regional innovation ecosystem.

Keep an eye on Acton Academy (and its replication partners), One Stone and other microschools for important developments in next-gen high schools.

Next Generation Learning Challenges

With 50 national grantees and another 50 Regional Funds for Breakthrough Schools, Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) ignited the current wave of high school innovation. Formed in 2010 by Educause and initially funded by the Gates Foundation, the funds share a vision of student-centered, personalized, blended, experiential learning designed around richer-deeper definitions of student success.
“The original NGLC breakthrough school design challenge was designed to surface and support bold, fundamentally different school designs submitted by promising, high-capacity organizations,” said director Andy Calkins. Setting a high bar for design (summarized below) initially drew mostly charter school applicants. In subsequent rounds the NGLC team and regional funds made district conversion models a priority.

CityBridge Foundation in Washington, D.C., illustrates the value of local partners for regional funds. After three national investment cycles, NGLC received only three applications from D.C. and funded only one school. In two regional grant cycles CityBridge received 41 applications and funded 13, with five receiving second-stage launch grants.
Two regional funds participate in the d.School/IDEO School ReTool initiative designing to assist school leaders to “hack their schools” towards personalized-learning models.

Funding Important Work

NewSchools Venture Fund has been a leading supporter of new school networks for 15 years. Over the next five years NSVF Invent will support creation of 100,000 quality seats.
Carnegie Corporation supports Opportunity by Design, a small network of urban schools that share a recuperative youth development framework and support from Springpoint Schools. (See our trip report to Denver grantee Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Development, pictured below.)

XQ Super School Project produced great resources for understanding the landscape, designing a new school, and developing a plan. These knowledge modules are grounded in Carnegie’s design principles and offer a mix of cutting-edge academic research and inspiration to help school designers and practitioners alike to boldly rethink high school. In August, XQ will award $50 million to five schools to create super schools.
For more, see:

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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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