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Keys to successful high schools

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by Patrick Gailey

Educators and concerned citizens gathered to discuss the keys to success for high-poverty urban high schools at a meeting on Oct. 27 sponsored by Public Citizens for Children and Youth. The meeting was called in response to a new study entitled “From At Risk to On Track II: Four Factors That Support Success in Urban High Schools.”

The study, released in August, identifies the four factors as:

  • creating a positive school environment;
  • motivating students academically and emotionally;
  • creating time for students to have enrichment and social supports and for teachers to work together; and
  • a relevant, engaging curriculum.

The study is a follow-up to one released in 2008  that focuses on best practices and successful strategies of urban elementary and middle schools. Both studies rely heavily on observations at urban schools that appear to have “beaten the odds,” primarily through high test scores.

Elliott Seif, co-author of both studies, said that besides the four factors cited in the study, it is also important to have constant communication with parents about student progress and difficulties.

Three educators who were interviewed for the report also commented on the findings:

They all stressed that the best strategy to implement these factors often differs from school to school and cited the importance of principal autonomy.

Liebowitz shared an anecdote that he once required teachers to evaluate themselves, and said it was a successful exercise since the teachers were able to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses without outside pressure. At the time, however, his superiors were upset at this breach of protocol and forbade him from doing it again.

But now self-evaluation is recognized as a vital part of teacher professional development, he said.

The report also emphasized the importance of sharing successful practices within and between schools, and the need for flexibility so schools can design and revise their curriculum.

Johnson said that he worked hard to create logic and philosophy courses at Ben Franklin to supplement a standardized curriculum that stresses test preparation.

"At Ben Franklin we have a philosophy teacher and a logic teacher because knowing how to think critically is key in the 21st century.”

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