Essential School Design: The “Non-Negotiables”

In order for adolescents to achieve at high levels, their schools must first be designed to promote personalization and depth of understanding, the Coalition asserts. Without the following “non-negotiable” features, the national office recently wrote, a school has “very little chance” of promoting high student achievement:

  • The students must be well known. The student-to-teacher ratio must not exceed 20:1 in an elementary school and 80:1 in a secondary school.
    • Possible means to this end: Small school size; family groups, houses, or academies in large schools; advisory groups; home visits; looping to keep classes with the same teacher for two or more years.
  • The school’s routines – including schedules and staffing patterns – must be flexible in order to support teaching and learning.
    • Possible means to this end: Year-round calendar; teamed teaching pairs; teacher-generalists; stripped-down electives; common planning time; longer school days to create regular half-day or full-day releases; advisory systems.
  • The school’s design must be based on the assumption that all students can and will demonstrate serious and useful intellectual work.
    • Possible means to this end: Heterogeneous grouping; project-based learning; experiential education; workplace learning; distance and virtual learning; cross-registration with colleges; public exhibitions of student work; performance-based promotion and graduation systems.
  • The faculty must have substantial authority over its own work and must have time to collaborate.
    • Possible means to this end: Common scheduled planning periods; summer institutes; half-day release each week; staff retreats; site-based decisionmaking.
  • Family and community involvement must be expected and cultivated.
    • Possible means to this end: Home visits; school meetings at parents’ houses; community mentors; parent centers in schools; classes for parents.
  • School practices and policies must promote a tone of decency and respect.
    • Possible means to this end: Small schools; advisory systems; meaningful opportunities for student voice.