Articulating a uniform purpose with specific outcomes through standards-based accountability is just one small step in instituting successful high school reform. In this article, Matthew S. Urdan examines prominent research on the topic and finds that when different aspects of issues that persist are examined and looked at from a holistic perspective, patterns emerge that indicate that the adoption of a coherent core curriculum, a reduction in school size, and the use of varying subject specific instruction methods would synergistically improve academic achievement across the socioeconomic status spectrum. To be effective, however, these reform initiatives would need to be components of a very specific, three-layered, detailed plan of implementation to overcome fragmented policies and the greatest impediment to reform: teacher inertia and a reluctance to embrace change and proven instructional techniques. This is a two-part article. Please continue reading High School Reform: The Three “R”s Part II after reading Part I below.
The Purpose of High School
As high school attendance has become nearly universal since the beginning of the 20th century, two major schools of thought regarding what the primary purpose of high school should be have emerged: to prepare students for a college education, as articulated by Charles Eliot and his Committee of Ten; and the National Education Association’s Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education’s idea that coursework should prepare students for their future occupational needs. The existence of these two competing major schools of thought as to what the purpose of high school should be has resulted in seemingly endless reform attempts to improve education and the rise of the comprehensive high school which tries to be all things to all students. (Lee and Ready, 2009). Up until 1970, the comprehensive high school had achieved a steady increase in graduation rates; but since 1970, graduate rates have remained static at seventy-five percent. (Stern, 2009). With the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, which slammed high schools for their poor results and which sparked a flurry of calls for reform, much debate and research has taken place regarding what is broken in the educational system. Many solutions have been suggested, some have even been implemented and achieved moderate success. A major result has been the standards-based reform movement, perhaps capped by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and an increasing trend towards the reinstitution of original Committee of Ten core curriculums designed to prepare students for college. However results within and between states have been fragmented and it is clear that a standards-based approach alone is not enough. While independent researchers at the nation’s top academic institutions address many component parts of the educational system, not a lot of synthesis is taking place, nor is a comprehensive plan being offered by any school district, state, or the federal government as to what and how school reform can be implemented that would result in an increase in standards, equity, and performance of all. Clash, debate and research continue, but in all the literature, very few are asking what may be the most important question: what is the purpose of high school?