Some Key Findings that Support Essential School Ideas

How personal the secondary school environment is matters more than any other single factor in encouraging students’ engagement and their willingness to work hard on academic goals. When teachers connect with and understand their students’ families, cultures, and life outside school, students achieve at higher levels. (McLaughlin 1993)

At all achievement levels students prefer an active classroom role, and this is particularly important to nontraditional students, who generally fail to thrive in teacher-dominated classrooms. (McLaughlin 1993) Disadvantaged students seem to benefit from schools where advanced academic course work sets high expectations for all. (Lee and Smith 1994; Bryk, Lee, and Holland 1993)

By itself, implementing more challenging, higher-quality academic content will accomplish little if students do not feel connected to school and take a positive view of themselves as learners. (Lee and Smith 1994)

Smaller schools are more productive work places for both adults and students, and student achievement is more equitably distributed. (Lee, Bryk, and Smith 1990)

Any number of restructuring moves that depart significantly from conventional practices to make schools less bureaucratic and more “communal” contribute to student achievement gains across the spectrum of socioeconomic and other differences. (Lee and Smith 1994)

The public believes that students should not graduate or be passed from grade to grade without evidence of achievement, not merely effort. (Public Agenda 1994)

Good schools do not merely compile innovative elements when they restructure; they have an “effective organizational syndrome” that is often “communally organized,” reflecting a vision of how components work together. (Chubb and Moe 1990; Bryk and Driscoll 1988; Bryk et al. 1993)

Networks of all kinds-among schools, among teachers exploring new practices, among students-contribute to deeper student learning. (McLaughlin 1993)

A sense of mission or ethos that defines the school contributes to higher student achievement, particularly with disadvantaged students. (Bryk et al. 1993)

Students learn best when learning is embedded in authentic contexts. (Collins et al. 1991)

A student’s intelligence is not fixed and unitary but a uniquely personal complex that thrives best when instruction is personal and developmentally appropriate. (Gardner et al., 1991)