The New Urban Academic Campus

April 28, 2011 at 9:29 AM 1 comment

Heresy…today’s small high schools are building blocks for our future, crucial transition elements that, like scaffolding, must fall to reveal the 21st century high school.

Future shock? Large urban high school campuses will comprise at least a few small schools, athletic facilities, an arts complex, a tech center, and various culinary enterprises. Students will have options off campus for dual enrollment in college, distance learning, and work study. Community service will be mandatory, and civics lessons will transport students to government centers. Students will engage in exploration, but the pursuit may be a thesis, not necessarily hands-on learning. Small learning community leaders will have reinvented the assistant principal role. The campus will have a general manager running the operation.

Small high schools are helping to address the achievement gap in urban education. They seek to ensure that students are no longer falling through the cracks, and that they are getting smarter through exploration-based learning.  However, pedagogically, they are too close to very good middle schools. This strategy must be temporary by design. In addition, small schools keep class sizes low by limiting administration to a small number of micromanagers with a yen for multitasking. Electives and extracurricular activities often depend on the skill set resident in the core content faculty, not student choice, and team sports are cobbled together with partnering schools in borrowed or substandard facilities. Sacrifices are made to preserve academic priorities.

Failure is not an option. Important investments are being made for our children to achieve equity in college preparation and access to the American dream. What, then, with success?

What key elements of this experiment must be preserved? Surely, a personal connection to school is a must for every student. Small school nurturing and student-orientation must survive. But is the pedagogy that has bridged the achievement gap equal to the task of taking students to the next level in high academic achievement? Strong mathematical and scientific thinking depends on algorithms and abstract thought. Writing for college must be quick and carefully composed, not formulaic or endlessly edited. Broad knowledge of culture and historical perspective set students apart. Facility with technology and spatial navigation must be assumed.

Collections of small schools will benefit from affiliation to underwrite expanded opportunities for their students. Personal choice is as important to academic motivation for students as the best intentions among their teachers and mentors. Once core competencies have been achieved, exposure to a menu of options will allow students to explore their interests and broaden their perspectives. For the more fortunate, it will unlock a passion for study in a newly discovered discipline.

This new high school exists in some wealthier suburbs today. I can only ask for at least as much for urban students. And it is not too soon to include this vision in our plans for their future.


Entry filed under: Design Concepts.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. The Lawrence, MA Situation « SchoolsRetooled  |  November 16, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    […] Larger regional high schools with a campus atmosphere of small learning communities and shared facilities for science and technology, the arts, sports and physical education, and culinary arts and other vocations. (See details of The New Urban Academic Campus here.) […]


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