Evolution of USA High Schools

Toward The Future: Multiple Options

Overview Evolution of USA High Schools.

Adherence to the comprehensive high school model was always consensual. There was no de facto American public school “system.” The 10th Amendment to the Constitution “reserves” the power to educate for the states, but even the states have some difficulty in regulating the activities of the thousands of school boards in the country with whom most of the power to educate is vested. That there was ever such deference to a handful of self-appointed education leaders and so many acceptances to the recommendations made in a handful of reports for so long should truly be the surprise.

Also, surprising was the failure of educators to appropriate two of the most powerful technological advances specifically designed to communicate with a large number of people—radio and television. Attempts were made to use these as educational media—an image of students watching satellite or manned spacecraft launches on television comes to mind—but these mass media failed to make the impact on the classroom once hoped for.

Emerging in the mid-1980s, digital technology appeared to be headed to the same fate. Early technologies were not user-friendly and teachers could not figure out how to use them to transform their work or student learning. Again Nesbit was correct when he noted that most new technologies are initially used to perform the tasks of the past. Early applications of computer technology included computer-generated “flash cards.” It was the Internet that really unleashed digital technology in the schools. The changes in the technologies and in education have come so quickly since the mid-1990s that it would take a separate paper to chronicle them all. It is possible, though, to tease out some general and fundamental changes that have affected high schools and will further affect how they are organized and conceive of their missions.

  • The notion of the teacher as the sole provider of content knowledge has yielded to a view of a teacher as a mediator or curator of knowledge; the teacher likely cannot know all the content that a student can access, but can help the student make informed judgments about which content is accurate and worth learning.
  • Freed of the responsibility of the sole provider, the teacher can hone new skills, such as using analytics/adaptive technology to understand student’s individual needs better.
  • Knowledge is proliferating so rapidly on the Internet that it cannot be contained in a typical course of study; learning does not begin or stop at the schoolhouse door.
  • Students can easily access additional content or additional ways of explaining content with or without a teacher’s assistance.
  • Access to learning/knowledge is 24/7.
  • Entire new fields of knowledge are now available for students to investigate and specialize in (coding, digital film editing, etc.).
  • The school/classroom is no longer the sole arbiter of cultural knowledge.
  • More than ever it is possible and desirable for schools and teachers to experiment with new ways to organize content and students’ learning experiences.

As educators begin to understand these changes and use them to their (and to their students’) advantage, we may begin to move beyond traditional either/or antagonisms (basic versus advanced, broad versus narrow, etc.) and move to taxonomies that yield consistent progress.

Evolution of USA High Schools 2020

Evolution of USA High Schools

State of the Art: Alternative Models and Trends

For some time there have been quasi-experimental models: magnet schools, charter schools, disciplinary campuses, and so on. Magnet schools were first conceived of as a means to desegregate school districts. Some successful campuses remain even after that goal has been reached. Charter schools exist for many disparate reasons, and like magnets, some are more successful than others. In recent years newer models have emerged and thrived in an atmosphere of what Clayton Christensen defines as “disruptive innovation.”(Christensen) Here are some of the most notable innovations. For institutions interested in innovation on their own campuses, these models and examples can provide guidance and inspiration.

Virtual Schools and Courses

Simply put, these are schools and courses conducted entirely or mostly on the computer. Moving ahead after initial tests in what was called distance learning, 26 states now have virtual schools and served 741,516 supplemental online course enrollments in SY 2013-14 (Watson, et. al., 27). But the fastest growing segment of the virtual school market is in district virtual schools. Districts often opt to create their own in-house virtual schools or to use a service such as Village Virtual LLC to open and run them. In high schools, a selection of digital learning options in general, including the availability of completely online courses, computer labs, learning management platforms, and lots of forms of digital content. The role of the teacher in virtual learning settings is much different than in traditional schools, as teachers are often expected to be online to assist students for many more hours than in a traditional school day.

Project-Based Learning (PBL) High Schools

Project-Based Learning is defined by the Buck Institute as a teaching technique in which scholars gain information and abilities by working for an extended stage of time to examine and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Such pedagogical techniques have been around for decades in the form of Future Problem Solvers, Science Fair, and National History Day, but now entire campuses are using PBL to teach all subjects all year. The New Tech Network alone supports over 150 schools in 26 states and Australia (“What We Do”). Central to the approach is learning based on real-world problems and solutions that demand more than the usual answers to teacher questions. New models of staff development and scheduling support this approach.

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