Common Principles for Uncommon Schools

Horace Small Learning Communities

‘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

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

Advisory Program Research and Evaluation

This article reviews the research literature to bolster the case for advisory and demonstrate that putting it at the core of a school is worth the investment. Lessons from CES schools also reveal the importance of a cycle of collaborative inquiry when planning and implementing advisory. At its heart, advisory forges connections among students and the school community, creating conditions

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?

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

Coaching Students to Assess How They Are Doing

Randy Wisehart and his team partner at Hibberd Middle School in Richmond, Indiana ask their eighth-grade Humanities students to suggest and defend their own course grade, using a number of instruments including this final exercise: Please indicate your self-assessed grade of ____, and support your opinion with your work from the nine weeks??specifically, your written work, book reviews, daily assignments,

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

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 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

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,

Empowering Students: Essential Schools’ Missing Link

Students are too often the forgotten heart of school reform-its whole purpose and its major resource. how can their power be nurtured and tapped as schools work toward more active learning, more personal and decent school climates, and higher standards and expectations? THE KIDS PILED OUT OF VANS into the May splendor of the summer camp nestled in the New

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 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

From The Inside Out: Eagle Rock School Producing a New Generation of CES Teachers

Six years ago, I founded Eagle Rock’s Teaching Fellowship Program in collaboration with Public Allies, Inc. and under the auspices of Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center. I knew the power of teacher education that Eagle Rock provided, as I had participated in an internship at the school in 1994. Eagle Rock’s Teaching Fellowship has two perspectives: local and global. Locally,

Giving the Kids the Keys: An Advisory Plan that Involves Students in Setting Standard

by Bill Johnson, National Re:Learning Faculty Just as a learner’s permit allows students to develop the skills of driving under the tutelage of a responsible adult, this advisory curriculum gives them a framework in which they take gradual responsibility for their own success a system of performance tasks, initially in a coached and guided environment, but finally on their own.

Giving the Kids the Keys: An Advisory Plan that Involves Students in Setting Standards

by Bill Johnson, National Re:Learning Faculty Just as a learner’s permit allows students to develop the skills of driving under the tutelage of a responsible adult, this advisory curriculum gives them a framework in which they take gradual responsibility for their own success a system of performance tasks, initially in a coached and guided environment, but finally on their own.

Good Teaching Is a Conversation

Last night, I finished editing a draft of a friend’s article on artificial skin, which he had written for a scientific journal. The prose was exceptionally dense, almost opaque, built on a specialized vocabulary that I did not know. I could edit for mechanics and usage, but I could offer virtually nothing to criticize or clarify content. However, despite all

Helpful Resources on Small SchoolsReviews of the Research

Cotton, Kathleen, “School Size, School Climate, and Student Performance,” Close-Up Number 20 in the School Improvement Research Series, produced by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory under a contract with the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education. Contact: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory Document Reproduction Service, 101 S.W. Main Street, Suite 500, Portland, Oregon 97204; tel.:  (503) 275-9519  (503) 275-9519

High Schools on a Human Scale

By Thomas Toch (Beacon Press, 144 pages, $15.00) reviewed by Laura Flaxman “The prospect of high schools on a more human scale ultimately requires a belief on the part of educators and policy-makers that the necessary changes to the status quo needed to create such high schools are worth the hard work needed to achieve them. The stories of the

Homes to Powerful Learning & Delight

Architecture has many purposes. It keeps the rain off our heads, keeps our belongings secure, and brings pride and beauty to our lives. But architecture-and school buildings in particular-can do far more than that. Every building ever made carries within it the goals of its creators. Just as we can learn what was important about ancient societies by examining their