Common Principles for Uncommon Schools

Horace Learning Structures

‘Thinking in Questions’ Brings a Spirit of Equity to Community-School Relationships

What can our school do about unexcused absences? How do I know if my child is making enough progress? How much should teachers have to work outside the school day? Putting questions at the heart of curriculum, instruction, and school governance opens up the change process to fresh design solutions. The Right Question Project has worked for the past decade

8-Day Rotational Schedule

8-day rotational schedule alternating long-block days and short-block days. Croton-Harmon High School in Croton-on-Hudson, New York adopted this schedule as a first move toward longer blocks, to give teachers and students time to practice the skills and strategies of teaching and learning in longer periods. Each cycle accommodates a session of the Student-Faculty Congress, one advisory group meeting, a daily

Horace: Learning Structures Published: April 11, 1996 By: Kathleen Cushman Topics: Learning Structures, Scheduling

A Friend is Dropped

When Sandy and Jenny started school as new sophomores in September, they got along very well. They had French and basketball in common, and the rest seemed to go along of its own accord. They kept lots of company with each other for the first few weeks. As time went on, however, there was little doubt that they were headed

A Multilingual Essential School Develops Language by Crossing Boundaries

All 350 students at the International High School in Long Island City, New York are recent immigrants with very limited English, but the rich and coherent interdisciplinary curriculum they follow here treats this multilingual population as an asset, not a drawback. In heterogeneous groups, taking interdisciplinary courses organized around themes such as “Motion” and “Origins,” students maintain and develop proficiency

A Simple Justice: the Challenge of Small Schools

Activists and chroniclers of Chicago’s small schools movement, editors William Ayers, Michael Klonsky and Gabrielle Lyon have assembled fifteen uplifting, informative essays in A Simple Justice. Offering history, philosophy, cultural criticism, pedagogy and calls to action, the various contributors make explicit the connections among small schools, social justice and educational equality. Charles M. Payne’s examination of the socially progressive heritage

A System Map Lays out A Pathway’s Action Plan

The Croton-Harmon school district belongs to New York’s Compact for Learning, a group of innovative schools that share common goals reflecting Essential School principles. To chart progress toward these goals up and down the pathway, Superintendent Sherry King devised a “system map” whose columns tracked the ways in which local initiatives (both current and planned), data, and the district’s decisions

Horace: Learning Structures Published: December 11, 1995 By: Kathleen Cushman Topics: Learning Structures

Are Advisory Groups ‘Essential’? What They Do, How They Work

If even one person in a school knows him well enough to care, a student’s chances of success go up dramatically. In small groups that can focus on a range of subjects, teachers and students are forming new bonds and setting new standards for a personal education. When teachers at Kentucky’s Fairdale High School were planning the start of their

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?

Basic “4 by 4” Semester Block Schedule

Students take four courses each semester for about 90 minutes a day; teachers teach three courses per semester. Some blocks are split into two 45-minute periods for lunch or short electives. Similar schedules are used at Noble High School (Berwick, ME); Coral Springs (FL) High School; and Reynoldsburg (OH) High School. Semester 1 Semester 2 P E R I O

Horace: Learning Structures Published: April 11, 1996 By: Kathleen Cushman Topics: Learning Structures, Scheduling

Beating the Odds: High Schools as Communities of Commitment

by Jacqueline Ancess (Teachers College Press, 192 pages, $19.95) reviewed by Kathy Simon It is hard for most of us who attended and began teaching in standard-issue schools in this country to visualize how schooling could be truly different We can stretch our imaginations to picture a particularly exciting project, a spectacular field trip, or maybe smaller class sizes. But

Horace: Learning Structures Published: December 10, 2003 By: Kathy Simon Topics: Learning Structures, Small Learning Communities

Connecting and Reflecting in the Advisory Group

Many Essential schools use the advisory group structure as a way of increasing the personal connection among students and between students and the teaching staff. At New Mission High School in Boston, where “advisory” opens and closes every day, students begin the morning meetings with a ten-minute ritual that Essential school teachers often use themselves to build professional community. At

Connecting Compensation and Evaluation to Build Professional Development

At Maryknoll School in Honolulu, Hawaii, a Coalition of Essential Schools affiliate since 1995, teachers and administrators are continually working on the issue of building capacity for leadership. This has led to implementation of an alternative to the traditional salary scale. Our Compensation Committee, made up of teachers, administrators, and school board members, is charged with all matters pertaining to

Horace: Learning Structures Published: April 14, 2008 By: Natalie Morey Topics: Learning Structures, Small Learning Communities

Creating Advisories: A Few Notes from the Field

Research solidly confirms that advisories provide the kind of personalized support that increases student achievement, and the current surge of secondary school start-up and restructuring initiatives is promoting a new wave of advisory programs in thousands of schools nationwide. Although many exemplary advisory programs exist, we know of many other schools struggling to establish meaningful advisories. As we’ve worked with

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

Creating New Schools: How Small Schools are Changing American Education

In Creating New Schools’s introduction, Evans Clinchy-Senior Consultant at the Institute for Responsive Education at Northeastern University -questions the possibilities of autonomy within large districts, specifically Boston and New York. Linda Nathan and Larry Myatt’s chapter on the history and trajectory of Fenway Middle College High School compellingly describes that autonomy, specific challenges to it and the exhilarating and exhausting

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

Elementary Schools Form Networks for Change The National

Elementary School Networks(NESN) began in the spring of 1993 when educators and parents from 18 states gathered in New York to consider how Essential School principles relate to elementary schools. Another key goal: to form local and regional school-based “networks” through which to collaborate in reform efforts. With support from the DeWitt Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, in 1994 the project

Horace: Learning Structures Published: November 11, 1995 By: Kathleen Cushman Topics: Learning Structures

Elements of Smallness Create Conditions for Success

Since not all small school restructuring outcomes are equal, care must be taken to insure that these resources and efforts will be truly productive. The last thing small school proponents want to see is a future in which school downsizing ends up on the dead fad pile, with students reaping few benefits from it, funding agencies declaring it a bust,

Horace: Learning Structures Published: March 10, 2003 By: Jill Davidson Topics: Learning Structures, Small Learning Communities

Eleven Structural Guidelines for Small Schools Concerned with Equity

Schools in the Small Schools Incubator, sponsored by Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools, Oakland Community Organizations and the Oakland Unified School District, use these guidelines as touchstones throughout the proposal and planning processes. Simple structures work best: a cohort of students, a team of teachers with full responsibility for student learning within a block of time and/or over a

Horace: Learning Structures Published: December 10, 2002 By: Topics: Community Collaboration, Learning Structures

Engaging the Disengaged: How Schools Can Help Struggling Students Succeed

Engaging the Disengaged: How Schools Can Help Struggling Students Succeed by Lois Brown Easton (Corwin Press, 304 pages, $37.95) Far too many young people sit in classes disengaged; far too many drop out of school altogether. The drop-out statistics are frightening enough, but no one really knows how many more students merely endure school, sitting in the back of the

Horace: Learning Structures Published: February 19, 2007 By: Dan Condon Topics: Learning Structures

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 Pathways: Connecting Across Grades

When the same principles guide a student’s school experience from kindergarten through high school and beyond, the habits of learning take a far deeper hold. But this entails teachers, parents, and administrators working and talking together on every subject and at every step. A HELIUM BALLOON PROJECT from Kristin Munro-Leighton’s fourth-grade year at Louisville’s Brown School has kept floating into

Horace: Learning Structures Published: November 11, 1995 By: Kathleen Cushman Topics: Learning Structures

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

Essential Staff for Essential Schools: Horace Interviews Misha Lesley

Misha Lesley, founding principal of Empowerment College Preparatory High School in Houston, Texas, currently serves on the CES National Executive Board and is a Program Director at Prepared 4 Life, a Houston-based organization that develops asset-based experiential after-school programs for middle school students. Through participation in the CES Small Schools Network, Misha has worked with many new and veteran CES

Horace: Learning Structures Published: April 14, 2008 By: Jill Davidson Topics: Learning Structures, Small Learning Communities