How Can Essential Schools Approach State and District Policies?
1. Course Requirements
Identifying specific courses that high schools must offer.
Approach: An Essential school could incorporate a required course (such as U.S. History) into an interdisciplinary offering (such as 11th grade Humanities).
2. Textbook Selection
Requiring that state- or district-selected textbooks be used by schools.
Approach: An Essential school could approach the text as one of several resources available as students explore essential questions posed by the course.
3. Teacher Certification
Requiring state certification in a specific subject before a teacher may cover it in class.
Approach: Could impede interdisciplinary course development and “teacher as generalist” approach in Essential schools. May require teaming with certified teachers, or special status.
4. State-Specified Student Outcomes or Performance Objectives
Establishing what students should know and be able to do at particular points in their schooling.
Approach: Does not necessarily dictate pedagogical means; Essential school students can be expected to meet or exceed these standards, assuming the outcomes include their learning to think well.
5. Statewide Performance Assessments
Measuring established outcome expectations through large-scale standardized tests.
Approach: Essential school students can be expected to meet or exceed these standards. Essential schools may propose alternative or additional assessment measures such as portfolios if the tests do not adequately cover the school’s learning goals.
6. Competency Testing
Assessing students for achievement of basic skills.
Approach: Does not necessarily dictate pedagogical means; Essential school students can be expected to meet or exceed these standards. Schools should be careful not to emphasize tests in a way that undermines emphasis on thinking, problem solving, and communication.
7. Graduation Requirements
Course requirements and exit examinations for graduation from high school.
Approach: Essential school courses satisfy such requirements even if they are presented in an interdisciplinary context. Desirable to shift state or district toward exhibitions as a basis for graduation.
8. Requirements for Special Honors at Graduation
Course and grade requirements above and beyond those required for graduation.
Approach: Essential school courses and evaluations satisfy such requirements even if they are presented in an unorthodox context.
9. Curriculum Frameworks
Course outlines or guides; may be accompanied by suggested instructional materials, teacher resource lists, and/or instructional approaches.
Approach: May impede active learning if curriculum prescribed is too long and detailed; Essential schools may require exemptions. Frameworks supporting active learning enhance Essential school efforts.
10. Student Promotion Specifications
Promotion from one grade to another tied to test scores or level of mastery based on statewide instruments or procedures.
Approach: Does not necessarily dictate pedagogical means; Essential school students can be expected to meet or exceed these standards. If tests emphasize coverage at the expense of critical thinking, Essential schools may propose alternative assessment measures such as portfolios.
11. SCHEDULING REQUIREMENTS
Specification of how long, or how often, classes must meet.
Approach: Essential schools offering interdisciplinary classes can broadly calculate time allotted to individual subjects within those classes to meet this requirement; or exemption may be requested.
12. PUPIL-TEACHER RATIOS AND LOADS
Identifying maximum number of students a teacher may be responsible for in a day.
Approach: In Essential schools student load figures should fall below such maximums; if team-taught classes exceed limits, two teachers can be classified as responsible for the group.
13. INSTRUCTIONAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
Identifying particular approaches to instruction.
Approach: Essential schools may require special status to promote active learning, although such pedagogy can be construed to fit adequately into some other approaches.
14. STATE-LEVEL REQUIREMENTS FOR ASSIGNING GRADES
Providing a standardized grading system to be used in schools.
Approach: Could be construed to fit Essential schools grading standards. If not, may require special status for alternative grading system.
15. TEACHER EVALUATION FORMS
Checklists for evaluation including factors such as “control over class,” number of minutes spent on specific activities, lectures, use of textbook, etc.
Approach: Not useful as evaluative tool for Essential School pedagogy, where active and collaborative learning is given priority. Alternative forms of assessment might be required.
16. UNION CONTRACTS
Often stipulate matters such as specific duties teachers may not fulfill.
Approach: Could hamper Essential school efforts towards interdisciplinary teaching, joint planning, and student advising. May require cooperation and support of local union leadership in waiving requirements.
17. COURT-ORDERED MONITORING
District may be under orders to raise standards in areas requiring remediation.
Approach: Basic skills testing may be required, but does not necessarily dictate pedagogical means; Essential school students can be expected to meet or exceed these standards.
18. INNOVATION GRANTS FOR TEACHERS AND SCHOOLS
Competitive funds available to teachers and schools that submit proposals for innovative projects or approaches.
Approach: Could help Essential Schools meet planning and other expenses.
19. EXPERIMENTATION STATUS
Pilot school or district efforts granted special status allowing opportunities to try new approaches.
Approach: Could help Essential schools obtain exemptions from state or district requirements.
20. ENLISTING COMMUNITY RESOURCES
School site councils that may aid in setting goals or devising plans to improve curriculum and instruction.
Approach: Could help muster community support for and involvement in Essential schools.
21. BUSINESS PARTNERSHIPS
May provide extra funding or support for innovative programs.
Approach: Could help Essential schools with funds and counsel for planning and programs.
22. WAIVERS AND EXEMPTIONS FROM REQUIREMENTS
Agreements with the state that certain provisions of law will not apply to a particular school or program.
Approach: Helpful to Essential schools.
23. RECOGNITION AND/OR REWARDS FOR HIGH ACHIEVEMENT OR IMPROVED PERFORMANCE
Based on increased test scores, usually in conjunction with other measures of performance, either for superior achievement compared with other systems or for achievement gains over time.
Approach: Could help Essential schools gain recognition for effectiveness of active learning approach.
(Many of these categories and their descriptions are from Judy Bray, policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States.)