Large, comprehensive high schools in urban areas are often troubled environments for teaching and learning. Research strongly indicates that, in such schools, ninth grade is a year in which many students start on the path to low achievement and dropping out. Leaving the more protected environment of middle school, many ninth-graders feel lost and anonymous, unsupported by their teachers and unengaged in their studies.
Project Transition was a research and demonstration program developed and evaluated by MDRC and implemented during the mid-1990s at two urban schools. The demonstration was designed to test the effectiveness of a set of changes in school structure and supports that were intended to improve students’ experiences during the critical ninth-grade year. These changes included: the establishment of student-teacher teams of four core academic teachers (for math, English, science, and social studies) and approximately 120 students who shared many of their core classes; daily teacher team meetings for collaboration on professional development and on solutions to student problems; and coaching and other supports to aid teachers’ professional development and improve their instructional practice. These reforms, it was hoped, would alter teacher-student dynamics, strengthen relationships among students, lead to improvements in the learning environment and classroom instruction in ways that would help students make a successful transition from middle school to high school, and ultimately improve student attendance and performance. A final report on the project was completed in 1999.