DESIGNING HIGH SCHOOLS FOR STUDENT SUCCESS
WHEREAS, more recognition and attention must be given to the overwhelming majority of high schools in this country that are successful and to the dedication and commitment of preK-12 teachers, paraprofessionals and other education professionals who work hard each day to create environments that promote high-quality teaching and learning; and
WHEREAS, even with that success and dedication, more must be done, as more is required of students than ever before. For students to be able to compete in the knowledge economy of the 21st century, and to be productive citizens in our democracy and stewards of our planet, they must master deep core content knowledge, become adept problem solvers and critical thinkers, and acquire new skills to deal with the increasingly complex and technological world; and
WHEREAS, adequate preparation for these higher expectations requires an equitable preK-12 system to prepare our students to enter high school and to motivate and engage all students to achieve at increasingly higher levels; and
WHEREAS, despite much hard work on the part of educators, about 7,000 students drop out of school each and every school day—a total of 1.2 million students each year—and the average graduation rate in our nation's 50 largest cities averages about 50 percent; and
WHEREAS, research from Johns Hopkins University shows that many students at risk of dropping out can be identified as early as sixth grade by monitoring poor attendance patterns and behavior (particularly motivation levels), as well as course failure in English or math. Research from the National Research Council, the Urban Institute and the National Council of La Raza also shows that many students at risk of dropping out have low English language proficiency skills, high mobility and social promotion rates, low socioeconomic status and interruptions in their formal schooling. And research from the Everyone Graduates Center indicates that these students need to develop a range of physical, emotional, social and cognitive skills; and
WHEREAS, AFT members recognize that much more can be done to:
- both identify and intervene with at-risk students as early as fourth grade;
- ease the ninth-grade transition for students and help ninth-graders read on grade level and focus on post-high school career and academic opportunities;
- design schools, based on research, that provide new approaches to learning and allow for extended learning time;
- ensure that student attendance standards are set and closely monitored;
- support districts to create alternative education settings;
- create safe, orderly, healthful and supportive student-centered learning environments with no social promotion;
- provide school personnel with the time they need to work together to develop and implement targeted academic and support programs to help at-risk students succeed; and
- address the educational and facility inequalities that exist among students from different socioeconomic backgrounds:
RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers call upon members, parents, community leaders, lawmakers, education administrators and students to recognize our shared responsibility to ensure high-quality, equitable educational opportunities for all children:
- The federal government must bear the responsibility for providing equitable funding and promoting education as a civil right;
- The federal government must bear the responsibility for providing full funding for federally mandated programs.
- States must bear the responsibility for providing adequate and equitable financial resources;
- School districts must bear the responsibility for providing appropriate facilities, materials, time and staffing levels; ensuring a safe, healthy and orderly environment for students and staff; enforcing "no social promotion" policies; and guaranteeing necessary educational and support services;
- Principals, teachers, counselors, school social workers, paraprofessionals and other school staff must bear the responsibility for effectively engaging students in relevant curriculum; and
- Community members and parents must bear the responsibility for ensuring that children are in school, safe, healthy and ready to learn; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT continue working with parents, community leaders, education administrators and lawmakers to garner the federal, state and local funding necessary to provide educators and support staff with the necessary resources, including additional time and/or reduced student load, to give every student the personal attention, appropriate alternative placements and necessary instruction to graduate from high school and go on to college, additional technical or vocational education or a career; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT specifically call on states to:
- Develop "early warning" systems, as defined by Johns Hopkins University, to identify at-risk students as early as sixth grade, and develop for each of these at-risk students, as soon as they are identified, a student learning plan similar to those used in Rhode Island and New Jersey. These plans must address the students' academic, economic, social and emotional needs in order to help them stay in school and must be closely monitored by additional counselors and social workers assigned to middle schools and high schools (e.g., the case management system developed by Take Stock in Children ). Development of these student learning plans must be funded at a level that will provide teachers with either reduced course loads or additional compensated time for collaboration with other school staff to develop and update the plans. An alternative would be to use case managers—i.e., social workers or counselors—to oversee these responsibilities. In no case should these plans result in a greater workload on teachers already carrying excessive responsibilities; and
- Provide teachers with a rich, well-sequenced, teacher-supported curriculum for elementary, middle and high school that includes not only a demanding core academic program, including appropriate reading instruction at all grades, but also programs that prepare students for the world of work and success in postsecondary education, as used at Aviation High School in New York City, where students earn both a Regents diploma and an industry-recognized certificate at graduation; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT call upon the federal government, states and districts to adopt high school graduation accountability standards that allow more than four years to graduate for students with high needs (students with special needs, English language learners, transient students), recognizing the achievement of students and schools that need more time to meet graduation requirements; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT urge districts to:
- Offer all students multiple pathways to graduation that will motivate and engage students, including community schools, dual-enrollment programs such as Early College High Schools, project-based learning and career and technical education programs; these pathways to graduation should provide flexible scheduling to accommodate students' social and economic needs, including extended time to graduate; and
- Mobilize community and municipal government resources and work with nonprofit agencies to leverage resources and facilitate access to wraparound services, mentors and workplace learning opportunities, similar to what the Syracuse Teachers Association has done with Say Yes to Education in Syracuse, N.Y.; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT:
- Create collaborative relationships with like-minded national organizations and programs such as the Campaign for High School Equity and the Johns Hopkins University Talent Development High Schools, and connect them with our affiliates to develop and implement local dropout prevention programs.
- Support our affiliates and members as they collaborate with their districts to secure resources to provide the embedded professional development teachers need in order to help students at risk of dropping out through, among other things, high-quality extended learning time, intensive academic supports and differentiated instruction (like those embedded in the Generation Schools model ); newcomer and research-based language acquisition programs for English language learners (like those found in Internationals Network for Public Schools high schools ); ninth-grade transition strategies; credit-recovery opportunities; and continuous mentoring.
- Disseminate information to our affiliates about the components that research and our members' experience indicate are necessary for a safe, orderly, healthy and supportive student-centered learning environment—adequate behavioral and social supports, a student advisory system that eliminates student anonymity and a transparent discipline and attendance code.
- Collect best practices from our members working in secondary schools, as well as from successful high school organizations and programs, and assemble them into a frequently refreshed Web-based database and a "What Works for High School Students" publication, in order to share this information with other members.
- Convene state and local affiliates to meet and talk with those practitioners, organizers and students to discuss and highlight programs featured in "What Works for High School Students" and to provide them with the training they will need to advocate for high schools that will promote success for every student.