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Peabody Journal of Education, Volume 85, Issue 3, 2010

Special Issue on Transforming the American High School: The Premise and Promise of Small Learning Communities 


In recent years, small learning communities have emerged as an alternative model to the large, comprehensive American high school that dominated the 20th century. These small schools arose in response to perceived failures of the current education system, which some reformers attribute to the inflexible, impersonal nature of the traditional, large high school.  Given the current interest in high school "redesign" and "turnaround", research on the topic has challenged views about best practices for educating adolescents and in so doing, has explored the success of conversions of large high schools into small schools. The articles in this issue of the Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations provide rationale for challenging the status quo and contribute to the evidence around the effectiveness of small learning communities, and early college high schools in particular. 

The PJE is honored to present this "Special Issue on Transforming the American High School: The Promise and Premise of Small Learning Communities" guest edited by John Fischetti and Robert Smith of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. In their introduction, Fischetti and Smith emphasize the urgency of rethinking the comprehensive high school, whose evolution they compare to the American car industry's "assembly line", whereby students are passed one-by-one through the education pipeline with little regard for personal learning needs or interests. Americans have accepted the impersonal and obsolete high school at the expense of a student's preparation for postsecondary education and the workplace. This issue is divided into three sections, each of which explores why small learning communities may be a promising alternative to the large American high school.

In the first section entitled "Breaking Up the Large High School", the authors research whether the difficult conversion of comprehensive high schools into small learning communities (SLCs) is worth the effort. Wallach examines the effectiveness of a freestanding small school compared to one created from an already established high school.  Levine compares SLCs to comprehensive high schools and uses empirical research to pinpoint three areas of focus as SLCs aim to improve academic achievement. Ravitz addresses the need for cultural and instructional changes within small high schools, and suggests ways in which Performance Based Learning can serve as the means to that end. Feldman and Dwyer close out the section with a study comparing student perceptions of start-up small schools to those in conversion high schools. Using a data set spanning four years, the authors look at patterns in student perception and ways in which autonomy affects the growth of this measure.

The second section of the issue explores the early college movement, one of the most notable reform efforts in the past two decades. Berger, Adelman, and Cole begin with a discussion of the four principles of the early college high school initiative (ECHSI) and use five years of evaluation data to demonstrate that most early college high schools (ECHS) are providing students with the college preparation that they need. Edmunds and colleagues expand upon the outcomes of ECHSs through an in-depth analysis of one particular early college program. After comparing students who attended an early college with those who did not, the author confirms that ECHS models hold promise. The last two articles in this section, written by Armstead and colleagues and Ongaga, respectively, provide student perspectives on SLC and ECHS programs, including ways in which the two models can improve in providing a high-quality education. 

The issue closes with a piece by Kuo that uses history to provide a sense of possibility for future high school reform. Kuo suggests the trick to transform the secondary schools of today is to use lessons learned from models in the past.

The Peabody Journal of Education would like to thank the guest editors of this "Special Issue on Transforming the American High School" for assembling an informative collection of work on the role of small learning communities at the secondary level. The time and effort of each author has translated into an enlightening commentary on the American high school and the ways in which it might benefit from change. It is our hope that the included studies and commentary provide meaningful insight into the ways in which small learning communities can transform the obsolete high school.


CONTENTS

Journal abstracts are linked to titles.

Introduction to the Special Issue on Transforming the American High School: The Premise and Promise of Small Learning Communities
John Fischetti and Robert Smith
Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 85, No. 3: pages 259-263.

SECTION 1 - Breaking Up the Large High School

The Complexities of Operating Multiple Small Schools in a High School Conversion
Catherine A. Wallach
Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 85, No. 3: pages 264-275.

What Research Tells Us About the Impact and Challenges of Smaller Learning Communities
Thomas H. Levine
Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 85, No. 3: pages 276-289.

Beyond Changing the Culture in Small High Schools: Reform Models and Changing Instruction With Project-Based Learning
Jason Ravitz
Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 85, No. 3: pages 290-312.

Patterns in Student Perceptions of Start-Up and Conversion Small High Schools
Jay Feldman and Anne O'Dwyer
Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 85, No. 3: pages 313-332.

SECTION 2 - The Early College Movement

The Early College High School Initiative: An Overview of Five Evaluation Years
Andrea Berger, Nancy Adelman, and Susan Cole
Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 85, No. 3: pages 333-347.

Preparing Students for College: The Implementation and Impact of the Early College High School Model
Julie A. Edmunds, Lawrence Bernstein, Elizabeth Glennie, John Willse, Nina Arshavsky, Fatih Unlu, Deborah Bartz, Todd Silberman, W. David Scales, and Andrew Dallas
Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 85, No. 3: pages 348-364.

What Students Need, What Students Say They Want: Student Perspectives on the Promise of Smaller Learning Communities
Cathleen L. Armstead, Ann G. Bessell, Sabrina Sembiante, and Miriam Pacheco Plaza
Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 85, No. 3: pages 365-374.

Students' Learning Experiences in an Early College High School
Kennedy O. Ongaga
Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 85, No. 3: pages 375-388.  

SECTION 3 - What is Next for the American High School?

Transforming American High Schools: Possibilities for the Next Phase of High Schools Reform
Victor Kuo
Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 85, No. 3: pages 389-401.

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