Is the Post-Pandemic Era Ripe for Rethinking High School?


.....XQ Institute currently supports programs intended to “rethink high school” at 30 schools and school districts nationwide. The organization describes its ultimate goal as graduating more students who have fundamental knowledge and skills, collaborate well, think creatively and are motivated to keep learning throughout their lives.

XQ Institute hosts contests that award money and other resources to proposals for changing high schools, or for creating new ones. The organization helps teenagers, teachers and school leaders hone the visions they pitch over many months by guiding them through information-gathering activities like hosting focus-group conversations with parents and taking field trips to check out thriving schools in other cities.....

.....In education, metamorphosis requires more than mere tinkering. So said Elizabeth Chu, executive director of the Center for Public Research and Leadership, an education research and consulting arm of Columbia University.

She argued that true change requires rewiring entire education governance structures, so that they stop delivering “uniform services” and instead prioritize “uniformly attending to the differences that kids and families present and meeting their unique needs.”

“When you're working with these schools, you have to be aware [that] classrooms are sitting within schools, are sitting within districts, are sitting within states, are sitting, obviously, within the federal structure,” Chu said. “And so it means rethinking the policies and procedures at every level of the system that allow for the flexibility and innovation that you need at the particular school level.”

And so, over time, XQ Institute has turned its attention toward influencing policy and reshaping whole school systems, not just individual schools.....

.....Some of the same organizations that poured money into school reform have since supported studies about what actually works. For example, in June, research firm MDRC published an analysis funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation about which frequently used school reform strategies are linked to better outcomes. They include:

  • Strengthening principal leadership
  • Using student data to improve teaching
  • Setting high standards for academic rigor
  • Enabling students to build personal relationships with educators
  • Empowering teachers to set goals and make decisions
  • Organizing teachers into teams that provide mutual support
  • Providing students extra academic help
  • Extending classes to allow for longer instructional time

Measuring these kinds of interventions early and often makes a difference in education reform efforts, according to Chu.....

.....XQ Institute does help schools conduct audits at the start of their partnerships to assess what’s been working and not working well. These measure quantitative factors like student transcript data as well as qualitative feedback from students about how prepared they feel for life after high school, whether their academic options align with their personal passions and how supportive they feel their teachers are.

Yet XQ Institute does not see itself as the party accountable for ensuring the success of the changes it sets in motion. After all, as a spokesperson put it, flatly, in writing, “XQ does not operate schools.”

However, the nonprofit did share through a spokesperson that “XQ gathers data directly from our schools to understand student experiences in real-time and is also working with a best-in-class third-party evaluator, MDRC, who is conducting a longitudinal study about XQ schools’ impact on their students.” The firm is about a year away from publishing quantitative data, the spokesperson said.....

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