Common Principles for Uncommon Schools

Horace Heterogeneous Grouping

Assessing the Community’s Needs

Because well designed schools respect and reflect the strengths of the communities they serve, CES believes, school design teams must research the answers to such questions as these: What priorities does the parent community have for this school? What are this community’s demographic trends? What role might teachers’ unions play in the school redesign? What other schools serve this community?

Assessment and Exhibitions: Do we rearrange the furniture we’ve got, or get new furniture instead?

One group began by naming a broad problem related to the topic of exhibitions: How do you figure out what you want kids to know and be able to do? And how do you tailor your school to suit such outcomes? The key dimensions of that problem, participants decided, were these: THE AUTHORITY PROBLEM. What role does each of the

Horace: Heterogeneous Grouping Published: June 12, 1991 By: Kathleen Cushman Topics: Heterogeneous Grouping

CES Web Democracy

Schools with access to the Internet can now join an ongoing discussion of Essential school principles, practices, and activities via the Coalition’s Web site at http:// The site posts regular reports on actions of the CES National Congress, allows text searches of Coalition documents, and invites participants to contribute to an interactive on-line conversation. No password is required.

Characteristics of the Anti-Racist Leader

“What does it mean to me, personally, to be an anti-racist leader?” asks Glenn Singleton, the president of Pacific Educational Group in Palo Alto, California, who works frequently with California’s Essential schools on issues of equity, leadership, and whole-school reform. To answer that question, he made up the following list: I am abnormal. I do things outside what is seen

Creating Equity from the Ground Up

Boston Arts Academy is the city’s first public high school for the visual and performing arts. The Arts Academy is committed to a rigorous academic and arts education for students who are eager to think creatively and independently, to question, and to take risks within a college preparatory program. As a pilot school within the Boston Public Schools, the Arts

Horace: Heterogeneous Grouping Published: September 10, 2003 By: Linda Nathan Topics: Heterogeneous Grouping, Learning Structures

Democracy and Equity: CES’s Tenth Common Principle

Principle 10: “The school should demonstrate non-discriminatory and inclusive policies, practices, and pedagogies. It should model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school. The school should honor diversity and build on the strengths of its communities, deliberately and explicitly challenging all forms of inequity and discrimination.” The room crackled with energy and tension as the

Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom

Elizabeth Cohen believes that children should learn together—integrated in all ways, but especially across ability levels and styles. Cohen, professor of education and sociology at the School of Education at Stanford University, continues to study and teach about working for equity in heterogeneous classrooms and offers one of the most useful and well-researched books on the topic. First published in

Horace: Heterogeneous Grouping Published: September 10, 2003 By: Michelle Collay Topics: Heterogeneous Grouping, Learning Structures

Equity and Action: Some Prompts for Teachers

Make a list of your favorite kids among those you teach. Then disaggregate the list, breaking it down by family income or status, by color, by gender, or by any other group traits. Do patterns emerge? Define for yourself what prevents kids in the bottom quartile of your classes from achieving at high level. What specific strategies do you employ

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

Essential School Structure and Design: Boldest Moves Get the Best Results

From what schools teach to how they allocate time and people, their design should emerge from local priorities and build on what we know about student learning. Drawing from their common principles, Essential schools are posing the most fundamental questions about how schools should look. “It was easy,” Einstein is said to have quipped when explaining how he came up

Essential Schools’ ‘Universal Goals’: How Can Heterogeneous Grouping Help?

Once we expect every student to meet the highest goals, the reasons weaken for separating classes in ability groups. But what else has to change when schools stop tracking? How can kids so various learn together, turning their differences to their best advantage? “I’m all for tracking,” Theodore Sizer declares emphatically, and I know he’s got to be kidding. On

Heterogeneous Grouping: It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it

Should students be grouped in classes by ability levels for academic reasons? Or should students of differing levels learn together in heterogeneous groups? How best to resolve this tension was the problem this group worried over. To realize fully the implications of the problem, they noted, it was necessary to address its class origins. Because students of lower socio-economic backgrounds

Horace: Heterogeneous Grouping Published: June 12, 1991 By: Kathleen Cushman Topics: Heterogeneous Grouping

How Does an Essential School Design Play Out the Common Principles?

A working group of the CES National Congress, made up of representatives from schools and Centers, has since 1998 collaborated on drafting a set of specific descriptions (or “indicators”) into “benchmarks” that outline what the work of the Coalition “looks like.” A number of Centers and schools are currently pilot testing the benchmarks to help focus school practices on improving

In Answer, Member Schools Are Developing Benchmark Descriptions

Common Principle 4: Teaching and learning should be personalized to the maximum feasible extent. a. A schedule that supports small learning communities by reducing student-teacher ratio (80:1, 20:1) b. Schedules and programs that are organized to accommodate personalized learning (i.e. advisors, school within a school, and house system) c. Professional development and support system encourage personalization through the provision of

Indicators of Classroom Thoughtfulness

In his 1991 article “Promoting Higher Order Thinking in Social Studies” (Theory and Research in Social Education 19:4), University of Wisconsin education professor Fred M. Newmann describes six key characteristics that can be observed in a thoughtful classroom, condensed with his permission here: 1. There was sustained examination of a few topics rather than superficial coverage of many. Mastery of

Making Decisions in One Democratic Essential School

Students at the Alternative Community School (ACS) in Ithaca, New York voted in 1998 on a Constitution that designates who makes which kinds of decisions at the school: The ACS staff shall have purview over: Joint student/staff curriculum committee to survey students, design curriculum, with final approval by staff Which teachers teach which classes Requirements and attendance policy of each

Making the Good Essential School Better: The Essential Question of Rigor

When we put student work in the spotlight and ask hard questions about its quality, our standards and expectations for all students come into sharp relief. Essential schools that have been successful in many other ways are now reaching for new strategies to raise the bar higher. You are working in a Peer coaching situation that has paired you with

Solving Design Problems: The Cycle of Inquiry

The habit of inquiry is critical to school design teams as they analyze how various structures and practices affect student learning and school functioning. Whether in devising new designs or assessing current designs, they must: Identify a problem area to investigate. (For example, “Fifty percent of our high school students are reading below grade level.”) Study the problem to determine

Some Useful Resources

Center for Social Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD;    (410) 516-8800   (410) 516-8800 . Resources and research on effective schooling of disadvantaged students. Web site: Education Trust, Education Watch: The Education Trust Community Data Guide provides help to local communities that want to pull together basic data on educational attainment, achievement, and practices. 1725 K Street NW, Suite 200,

The Elusive System of White Privilege

“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious,” wrote Peggy McIntosh in a groundbreaking 1988 essay that laid the foundation for contemporary discussions of privilege systems. McIntosh, who is Associate Director of the Wellesley College Center

The School Design Puzzle: How CES Can Help

Schools seeking help with issues of school design can find help through the Coalition of Essential Schools in a variety of ways: The new CES School Benchmarks spell out detailed “indicators” for how the Ten Common Principles play out in school structures and practices. To obtain the latest working copy, contact Adam Tucker by email at, or telephone  510-433-1451 

The Tuning Protocol: a Process for Reflection on Teacher and Student Work

What is it students are asked to do and what is the quality of the work they produce? The tuning protocol asks a teacher to present actual work before a group of thoughtful critical friends in a structured reflective discourse aimed at tuning the work to higher standards. In his essay Three Pictures of an Exhibition, the Coalition’s Joseph McDonald

Thinking Out of the Box: Design Elements from Essential Schools

The Essential school designs that follow represent just a few of the wide array that characterizes the Coalition. For more examples, visit the CES Web site ( or call the national office (  510-433-1451    510-433-1451 ) or a regional CES Center. Breaking large schools into several small schools. Two formerly enormous city high schools, reborn as the Julia Richman and James

Through Student’s Eyes: Combating Racism in United States Schools

As an African American parent, grandparent, woman, and educator I strongly believe in the need for multicultural education. I am delighted to have discovered Through Students’ Eyes, which addresses how power, white privilege, institutionalized racism, individual racism, the minority achievement gap, and equity impact student learning. Donaldson’s research examines how an antiracist curriculum can empower students. As an educator and

Horace: Heterogeneous Grouping Published: September 10, 2003 By: Topics: Heterogeneous Grouping, Learning Structures

Who Gets to Learn: The Sorry Statistics

A host of studies have documented the inequities that face students in United States public schools, and the bitter consequences that they produce. Among the most recent research are studies that show: The education of the adults in the family is critical for family income. The proportion of adults who are not in the labor force and the proportion who