Urban high schools are in trouble — high dropout rates, low student achievement, and graduates who are unprepared for the world of work are just some of the disappointing indicators. However, this policy memo, part of our “Looking Forward” series, explains how recent research has uncovered a number of approaches to improving student outcomes and reforming underperforming schools.
This issue brief, published by the National High School Center, highlights lessons from selected policies and programs designed to improve students’ preparation for life after high school.
An Exploratory Analysis
This analysis of data collected in MDRC’s evaluation of the First Things First reform initiative confirms that high school students’ engagement in school and perceptions of their own academic competence influence their mathematics achievement. The study also suggests that perceived academic competence may be more influential than engagement in boosting achievement in both mathematics and reading.
Findings and Lessons from First Things First
First Things First, a comprehensive school reform initiative, increased student achievement in Kansas City, Kansas, the first school district to adopt the reform model. It is not yet clear if First Things First is working in four other school districts in which it has been replicated.
Relying on 427 classroom observations conducted over a three-year period, this study traces changes in teachers’ instructional practices in the First Things First schools.
Findings from the First Implementation Year
Based on survey data and findings from interviews and observations, this report describes the First Things First reform initiative and its first year of implementation at seven secondary schools, with a focus on three key components: small learning communities, a family advocacy system, and instructional improvement strategies.
Creating the Conditions and Capacity for Community-Wide Reform in an Urban School District
Take a look inside the Kansas City, Kansas (KCK) public schools and you will find challenges facing any urban district: insufficient funding, large numbers of at-risk students, declining enrollment and teacher shortages. You will also see teachers working in teams and staying with their students for more than one year, lower ratios of students to teachers in key classes and extra time built into the day for professional development.