This post comes from San Diego, where I’m working with Learning Futures schools undertaking a study visit to the High Tech High schools. It’s been fascinating to see reactions to the radical, yet sophisticated model of what a really great, engaging, school looks like. People are still processing the information, from actually seeing and talking to kids. Most of the immediate reactions have been counter-intuitive.
But that’s only because we’ve become accustomed to seeing the cart drag the horse in education. So, our accountability structures are based around checking on student progress regularly to make sure they’re on course for their predicted grades. Here, at High Tech High, they are disappointed if a student celebrates, say, the fact that they got 98%, above their own development as a learner. Advisory/tutorial sessions are not the ‘performance assessment’ conversations we often see in the UK, working on the students strengths, rather than their deficiencies.
Yet, despite this clear reluctance to impose ‘performance management’ techniques on children, their student outcomes are astonishing: 100% of students complete their High School careers and almost 100% go on to college. I asked why purely college admission is such a significant measure of their accountability, when higher education isn’t for every kid. The answer was that here they place the emphasis upon ‘college readiness’, arguing that if a student is ready for college, they’re probably also ready for the world of work.
And there is an overwhelming sense of this being a place where work gets done – that students are talked to as though they were university under-graduates,or entrepreneurs. They rely upon astonishly high levels of trust in the students to stay ‘on task’ – you see them working everywhere (and relatively rarely in a ‘classroom’) No-one checks up on them, because they’re just expected to repay that trust, by producing ‘beautiful work’. And they do – in spades.
High Tech High like to judge the success of their teaching by the quality of student work produced, but it should also be seen in the quality of the student’s articulation of where they are, where they need to go, and what they need to do to get there. In this sense, these kids are way ahead of many under-graduates currently at college.
And it’s a fantastic ‘teaching school’ – a model for the UK Secretary of State for Education who wants to shift teacher preparation from universities to the front line. In fact there’s a lot that Mr Gove espouses here, plain to see: teacher autonomy, high expectations for students and staff, democratising college access, a sensible grown-up attitude to developing staff as professional enquirers. But the curriculum isn’t knowledge-driven, nor is it one-size-fits-all, and I suspect that this school would confound his assumption and prejudices, rather more than it confirms them.
The Learning Futures teachers are recording their thoughts and impressions of High Tech High throughout the week. You can follow them by clicking on the frame below, or by following the twitter hashtag #lfvisithth.