MDRC’s first conference, "Using Rigorous Evidence to Improve Policy and Practice," co-convened by the National High School Alliance and the Council of the Great City Schools, was held in January 2004 in Louisiana. Sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the colloquium brought together researchers to discuss the use of evidence-based research as a tool for answering questions about how to improve low-performing high schools. The conference addressed three major themes:
- What has been learned so far about the effectiveness of high school reform approaches?
- How can the field of education maximize the role research can play in informing practice and policy?
- What major studies are under way to evaluate various high school reform programs and what are the emerging lessons?
MDRC’s publication, The High School Reform Conference Series: Using Rigorous Evidence to Improve Policy and Practice, Colloquium Report, provides a summary of the major themes discussed at the meeting and the text of papers that were prepared for the conference by Larry Cuban, David Stern and Jean Yonemura Wing, and Alfred Hess, Jr.
MDRC’s second conference, "Improving High Schools: Putting Knowledge to Work” was held in San Diego in November 2005. Co-convened by the National High School Alliance and the Council of the Great City Schools and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation, it brought together constituency organizations and school reform advocates and developers from around the country. The agenda of the conference was twofold: to discuss how to get new research findings about reform models into the hands of leaders who can inform public policy and how to apply these lessons to improve high schools.
MDRC published two reports that were originally prepared for this conference: Closing the Aspirations-Attainment Gap: Implications for High School Reform: A Commentary from Chicago by Melissa Roderick and Meeting Five Critical Challenges of High School Reform: Lessons from Research on Three Reform Models by Janet Quint.
MDRC’s third high school reform conference, “Putting Knowledge to Work: A Summit of Midsized School Districts,” co-convened by the National High School Alliance and the Council of the Great City Schools, was held in New York City in June 2007 — again with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation. Leadership teams from 22 school districts gathered for two days of presentations, reflection, and discussion about the nexus of district high school reform initiatives and the expanding research base on what works at the high school level.
The agenda focused on three particular themes of concern to the participating districts: the transition into high school, staying on track through graduation, and preparing students for the postsecondary world. Researchers facilitated a conversation among school district representatives about local challenges and their corresponding interventions and investigated questions about the impact those interventions were making in the lives of children. Invited speakers included Joel Klein, Chancellor, New York City Department of Education; Bob Wise, President, Alliance for Excellent Education; Ron Ferguson, Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government; and Pedro Noguera, New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education. A report capturing the learning from this conference was published in October 2008.