What should high school look like in the 21st century? What graduation requirements will best prepare students to succeed in the new, and ever-changing, information- based economy of the 21st century? What will a high school transcript look like? And how might the high school day be different than it is now? These are the questions being considered by ACPS as they plan how to redesign the high school curriculum and graduation requirements to align with new state requirements and to prepare students for an essentially unknowable future.
“The leading edge of this change comes from the state,” explained Matt Haas, deputy superintendent, at a community meeting January 17, “as a result of the Every Student Succeeds Act replacing No Child Left Behind.”
In June of 2016, Virginia House Bill 895 was signed into law, removing existing provisions related to standard and advanced studies diplomas and verified units of credit—in other words, rethinking the role of the Standards of Learning (SOL). Additional recommendations passed down from the Governor with this law stipulated that “the Board of Education, in consultation with stakeholders representing K-12 education, institutions of higher education, business and industry, parents, policymakers, and community leaders, should develop and implement a “Profile of a Virginia Graduate” that identifies the knowledge and skills students should attain during high school. In so doing, the Board should consider the “Five Cs—critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, communication, and citizenship—and establish multiple paths toward college and career readiness that include internships, externships, and credentialing.”
The High School 2022 initiative, which ACPS has been working on since August, is its response to this directive. Haas summarized the effort by asking the audience, “How should we change our high school program to match the VDOE Portrait of a High School Graduate?” Previous work has included School Board work sessions, meetings of the High School Council—consisting of administrator and teacher representatives from all high schools and CATEC, lead instructional coaches, and a middle school principal—as well as meetings of a Community Advisory Board. As the end of phase one of the initiative—the “Visioning” phase—draws near, a “Community Conversation” was held at Monticello High School to gather input from the larger community. Hosted by Haas and facilitated by Strategic Planning Officer Patrick McLaughlin, the meeting was attended by upwards of 200 people, including parents, teachers, students, and others, indicating a high level of interest from the community.
The model being developed will incorporate more community- and work-based learning such as internships and mentorships, a diverse set of student pathways, a thematic focus at each grade level, and redesigned facilities to accommodate the new approach to learning. A staff report on the initiative, which will incorporate the feedback received at this meeting and will conclude phase one of the initiative, will be presented to the School Board in February.
The next phase, Facilities Planning, will carry through the fall, with the final Action/Approval phase to conclude by April 2018. The new curriculum and graduation requirements will be implemented beginning with the freshman class of 2018—who will graduate in 2022. You can learn more about the High School 2022 initiative and share your thoughts at https://www2.k12albemarle.org/acps/division/hs2022. You can also tweet your input to @k12albemarle.org using the hashtag #HighSchool2022.
One approach to re-envisioning the basic structure and curriculum of high school was illustrated in the 90-minute documentary Most Likely to Succeed (2015) (www.mltsfilm.org), the viewing of which framed the meeting. The film began by contrasting current educational practices—characterized as preparing students for the industrial age—with the innovation-based demands of, and skills needed to prepare students for, the 21st century economy. It featured a charter school in San Diego, California called High Tech High, which emphasizes innovative thinking, “passion-based learning” driven by student interest, community internships and mentoring, and capstone projects presented to an authentic audience. The belief that “we all learn in different ways” leads teachers to become facilitators who pose thematic questions that drive student research, and support their individualized learning. Is it important for every Virginia high school student to read Herodotus, Chaucer, or Shakespeare? The film asked. Should calculus or biology be taught as discrete subjects, or integrated into real-world applications? Is content best retained when learned in the context of hands-on, work-based projects that align with a student’s passions? Based on the simplistic assertion that most current education is based on boring drudgery and that content is best learned in the context of vocational or even avocational needs, this film featured major players like Thomas L. Friedman, Ken Jennings, and Salman Khan of the Khan Academy, but had a propaganda feel. More information is available at imdb.com.
During the film’s intermission, the audience attended breakout sessions to hear how local high schools are already incorporating the five C’s and project-based learning into their curricula. WAHS Principal Darah Bonham described the more hands-on, student-directed nature of learning in the Environmental Sciences Academy, with its support by local organizations such as LEAP, as well as the interdisciplinary Humanities curriculum in junior year, which combines history and English to allow student choice in hands-on projects, field trips, and guest speakers.
Seniors Julian Waters and Meg Richey spoke enthusiastically of the new “maker space” in the WAHS library, calling it a “center of student creativity.” “The maker space is a place for students to interact with what they are learning and to pursue their passions,” Meg explained. Meeting attendees were also encouraged to use sticky notes to post answers to questions such as, What skills will students need in the 21st century? What opportunities exist in our community for students to practice work skills?
Although advertised as “A Community Conversation,” the actual meeting schedule allowed little time for discussion. As one sticky note pointed out, “This meeting was better for disseminating information than for gathering input.” It was primarily an opportunity for ACPS to share their rationale for the changes to come and progress in implementing them.