Common Principles for Uncommon Schools

Horace Volume 15 | 1999 | Issue 5

Essential School Structure and Design: Boldest Moves Get the Best Results: Shows how the way schools are designed, from what they teach to how they allocate time and people, should emerge from local priorities and build on what we know about student learning. Download PDF

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?

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

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

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

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 

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