CORVALLIS, Ore. – Though Oregon’s K-12 system faces multiple, daunting challenges – declining resources, cumbersome policies and the possible need to change long-established practices – a groundbreaking report released today by Oregon State University researchers gives hope for the state’s high schools.
In the new report, “Innovation in Oregon High Schools,” researchers Michael Dalton and Molly Knott identify pockets of schools that have found new, innovative ways of thinking to improve student achievement. This research may fundamentally change how high schools look at their situations and their students and how to get better results, said Dalton, a professor in OSU’s College of Education and assistant to the dean for program and research development.
“Innovation in Oregon High Schools” was produced in collaboration with E3: Employers for Education Excellence and funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Dalton and Knott interviewed nearly 60 educators in more than 20 innovative schools statewide, from rural to urban, suburban to “micropolitan.” Innovation, they discovered, doesn’t hinge on big budgets or affluent parents or even school size. Rather, it springs from a new mindset.
“These schools didn’t do innovative things just to do them,” Dalton said. “Innovative schools have changed the way they think about the here and now. They think differently.”
He and Knott, a faculty research assistant in the College of Education, refer to this mindset as the “Big Here” and the “Long Now.” Resources expand dramatically when “here” doesn’t mean only what’s inside the schoolhouse walls, but embraces the entire community. Students are better served when “now” doesn’t mean the current school year, but stretches across the entire learning continuum.
Scio High School in Scio, Ore., offers a strong example of the “Big Here” perspective. With declining resources and the threat of closures and cuts to an already small staff, the school launched Promoting Accelerated College Entry (PACE). PACE students take senior-year courses at Linn-Benton or Chemeketa community colleges and receive an advanced diploma with community college credits or, in some cases, graduate with both their high school diploma and an associate’s degree.
As a result of PACE, 80 percent of Scio seniors now pass the science Certificate of Initial Mastery, and 78 percent meet the benchmark in writing.
David Douglas High School in Portland offers insight on the “Long Now” perspective. In the 1990s, David Douglas High deliberately placed counselors and a highly structured guidance curriculum at the center of its reform. The guidance curriculum starts with eighth graders at the district’s three feeder middle schools so that freshmen have a four-year plan in place when they arrive. The counseling curriculum for seniors includes individual and group sessions to help students transition to college or the working world. The college attendance rate has jumped to 89 percent.
Other examples of innovative schools include:
- High schools engaging other schools to share students and offer broader, more rigorous academic instruction;
- Teachers engaging other teachers in coordinated and/or interdisciplinary instruction;
- Educational institutions and systems engaging civic, business, family and other communities in policy, programs and practice;
- Districts creating a portfolio of diverse options to meet the needs of diverse students;
- High schools improving alignment and coherence with middle schools and post-secondary institutions;
- Educators at the elementary and middle school levels using information about student learning at the high school level to inform their teaching practices.
“This report by no means suggests a one-size-fits-all reform,” Knott said. “Invention doesn’t come from a handbook – ‘do X, Y and Z.’ It comes from a new way of thinking.”
Dalton has a unique perspective on the learning environment. He has worked as teacher and administrator in middle and high schools, in administration at a district office, in state government, in a state chancellor’s office and as a university professor and administrator.
“I am able to step back and look at the whole situation in a different way and bring a new perspective to it,” he said.
The complete report is available at http://oregonstate.edu/education/innovations.