Small Learning Communities

Report
Small Learning Communities
A PROVEN MODEL IN HIGH SCHOOL
REDESIGN
Sources of information
 U.S. Department of Education
 Education Northwest
 University of California at Berkeley
 Career Academy Support Network
 National Academy Foundation (NY)
 National Career Academy Coalition
 Southern Regional Education Board
 Center for Social Organization of Schools, JHU
Characteristics of Small Learning Communities
 Student centered: a core group of teachers knows a
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small group of students well
Success oriented: academic and other supports to
meet the needs of the whole child
Typically, teachers work in teams
Curriculum is revised to show connections between
content standards and student interests or goals
Choice
Elimination of tracking
Possible variations
 One grade level (such as 9th grade Academy)
 Themes, possibly a career orientation
 Involves employers or higher education
 Possible cross-curricular or project-based learning
format
Rationales from research
 Reduce alienation by creating connections and
community common in large schools
 Reduce boredom by creating relevance (interestdriven and authentic work)
 Connections with teachers and other students
 Connections between subjects and between school
and “outside” world
Who needs to “buy-in”
 Boards of Education, district superintendent and
administrators
 High school administrators, teachers, and counselors
 Parents and students
 In a career academy, representatives of local
employers and higher education
 Source: UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education
“To-do” list
 Identifying teachers across two or three subjects who
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want to work as a team
Developing a selection process for students
Modifying the curriculum to allow cross-subject
integration
Adapting classroom space, acquiring needed
equipment and materials
In an academy, forming an advisory board with
employer and higher education representatives,
along with district and school staff members
Source: UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education, USDOE
Start up costs
 Any facility modifications and Furniture, Fixtures,
and Equipment (FFE) if needed
 Professional developed on working as a team,
interdisciplinary teaching, project-based instruction,
possibly on teaching in a block schedule
 Curriculum review, revision, modifications
Potential obstacles: staff
 Administrators, counselors, and teachers have to
adapt, often modifying long-established habits.
 Teacher turnover requires orienting new teachers
and adjusting SLC teams.
 Typical contracts may limit flexibility of work day
Potential obstacles: program
 Curriculum needs to be integrated, something with
which most teachers have little training or
experience.
 They rarely affect standardized test scores. They can
improve motivation and the indicators that reflect it,
such as attendance, retention, and grades, but there
is little evidence they improve test scores.
Potential obstacles: logistics
 Classroom locations often change to allow teams of
teachers to be closer.
 Master scheduling is more difficult, as students need
schedules that link their SLC classes and teachers
need common planning time.
Other issues
 “Outsiders” such as employers, higher education
institutions, and parents are more involved, perhaps
increasing “external” criticisms of high schools.
 They may inadvertently contribute to racial/ethnic,
gender, or ability clustering.
 They need to be integrated with other school
initiatives already underway.
Possible partnership resources
 Advisory boards
 Mentorships
 Job shadowing and internships
Calculating the “risk”
 Is the BOE/district willing to absorb associated costs
of a program conversion? (curriculum, PD, facilities)
 Are staff willing to embrace a new school culture that
has implications for relationships with students
(mentoring, advisory), curriculum (connections with
other content, student interests), possible scheduling
differences (flexible or block schedules)?
 Can the school accept a new transparency working
with community partners, perhaps a less top-down
hierarchy in decision-making?
Rewards
 If the answer is yes to all of the “risks”, SLC have
great potential for transforming schools.
 Planning has to be transparent about the new “rules”
and “paradigms”.
 Lots of resources already exist to inform planning
and decision-making.
 This model is consistent with CAPSS Educational
Transformation Project, CT Secondary School
Reform Initiative, federal “signaling” in Race to the
Top Legislation, ESEA/NCLB renewal.

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