The Alliance for Excellent Education on what makes a supportive and successful school
If your kids are entering high school this fall, you don’t need to be reminded that the stakes are raised. Transcripts, standardized tests, sport, student government, and a range of afterschool activities will soon become part of a resume that influences both college and career. That’s a scary thing for most parents. But it also helps explain why parents need to be engaged—attentive and interested—in what their children are experiencing in and out of class.
As we’ve seen, how the school environment is perceived can be a powerful indicator for parents, teachers, and students alike. You should know if your daughter’s school is welcoming and if it offers her opportunities for leadership. You should know if your son is able to turn to other caring, supportive adults, besides you, when he has questions. Surveys can tell you some of that, but nothing replaces routine conversation with your child. It also helps to have a real understanding of where they’re spending their days and if their high school is prepared for success.
With another year right around the corner, the Alliance for Excellent Education has put together a helpful list of the “Elements of a Successful High School.” As the Alliance puts it: “Whether you are a parent seeking a stronger education for your child, a business owner in need of a well-trained workforce, or a concerned citizen joining with others to improve schools, this checklist can help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your community schools and guide you in determining the actions you can take to help improve them.”
A sampling from the list:
All students must learn the advanced skills that are the key to success in college and in the 21st century workplace. Every student should take demanding classes in the core subjects of English, history, science, and math; and no student should ever get a watered-down course of study. Further, students should also be given the opportunity to earn industry certification or some college credit while in high school through programs such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or those offered through a local college or university.
Personal Attention for All Students
Every high school should be small enough—or divided into small enough units—to allow teachers and staff to get to know all students as individuals and to respond to their specific learning needs. By the ninth grade, student should have a detailed plan for graduation—identifying the specific courses they must take, opportunities they should pursue, and extra help they need in order to succeed in high school and beyond. And every student should receive frequent and ongoing support from at least one academic advisor throughout their high school years.
Bringing the Real World to the Classroom
High schools should help students make the connection between book learning and the skills needed to be successful in life. Students must develop the work habits, character, and sense of personal responsibility needed to succeed in school, at work, and in society. As part of their class work, students should have opportunities to design independent projects, conduct experiments, solve open-ended problems, and be involved in activities that connect school to the rest of the world.
Family and Community Involvement
Students thrive when their high schools encourage positive learning relationships among families, educators, faith groups, civic organizations, businesses and other members of the community. Parents should have many chances to visit the school building, talk with teachers and staff, voice concerns, share ideas, serve as volunteers, and suggest ways to improve the school. And school leaders should reach out to their neighbors by attending community events and forming partnerships with local organizations in order to increase effectiveness and tap additional resources.