The Carnegie Corporation has given us a new phrase to describe the biggest challenge facing high schools as they move to implement the Common Core and Next Generation Science standards. We already know that by aiming to make every student a college-career ready high school grad, states and school districts will need to ratchet up their definition of proficiency. We also know that many students enter high school far behind proficient in its current form. Carnegie analysts Leah Hamilton and Anne Mackinnon put it succinctly:
“Schools will need to do two things simultaneously: accelerate all students’ learning to reach high levels and use recuperative strategies to help underprepared students catch up.”
Hence, “acceleration and recuperation.”
Carnegie addresses the scope of this challenge in its report, Opportunity by Design: New High School Models for Student Success. Thankfully, the title gives us some reason to believe it can be met. Otherwise, it would be a depressing slog through a really spot on analysis of the results we should expect with the new standards if we maintained business as usual.
Take graduation rates. Currently, about 75 percent of high school students graduate within four years, a rate that increases to 85 percent at six years. The Carnegie analysts project that if new standards are implemented without any new supports for high school students, we can expect the four year rate to drop to 53 percent and 70 percent — lower than our current on-time rate — at six years.
The balance of the report addresses the “acceleration and recuperation” strategies that need to be put into place, and show that schools need to go large to have an impact. Human capital, of course, is vitally important as we have written often on this site. However, the report argues that investments in teachers will only get us so far. The authors calculated the effect of providing students with highly effective math teachers for their four years of high school. Highly effective was defined as teachers who advance student learning 1.25 grade levels in a year, or 25 percent more than expected growth. They estimated that this alone could increase common core proficient rates from 34 percent to 43 percent — impressive but obviously not sufficient.
They further examined the aggregate effect of higher-level curriculum, extra time and technology. When combined with investments in teachers, principals and counselors, we begin to see the elements of a successful high school design, one that can meet the acceleration and recuperation challenge. A big task, to be sure, but one that needs to be done and can be done with enough resources, committed leadership and community support.