HSTW School Improvement Design


Making Schools Work
School Improvement Process

Six Design Principles

More than 30 years of research in real school environments has proven the efficacy of the six design principles governing the Making Schools Work school improvement process and SREB’s three related school improvement designs — High Schools That Work, Making Middle Grades Work and Technology Centers That Work.

These six design principles — when properly funded and implemented by school and district leaders and supported with a range of related services offered by SREB — can help more youth prepare for a full range of postsecondary options.

1: Prepare all students for college, careers or both.

All students in all courses receive challenging assignments that align with grade-level readiness standards. Teachers use rich, literacy-based assignments and project-based instruction to challenge students.

2: Redefine how time is used to connect academic, career pathway and workplace learning.

Academic and career pathway teachers have time to co-plan instruction
and assignments that strengthen students’ literacy and math skills and engage them in deeper learning.

3: Provide extended time and support for middle grades and high school students to achieve college and career readiness.                                                                

Accelerated learning strategies and multiple tiers of instruction help struggling students master the academic, technical, cognitive and personal skills needed to succeed in postsecondary education and the workplace.

4: Use career pathways and a redesigned senior year to erase the lines between secondary, postsecondary and workplace learning.

Seniors who meet college-readiness benchmarks can earn up to 30 hours of credit toward an associate or bachelor’s degree or advanced industry credential in a high-demand field. Seniors whose 11th-grade assessment scores fall shy of benchmarks take special readiness courses that prepare them for credit-bearing postsecondary studies. Seniors whose assessment scores fall well below benchmarks receive a suite of services that enhance their academic, technical and workplace skills and empower them to make good educational and career choices.

5: Provide students with school- and community-based learning experiences that help them set career and educational goals.

Beginning in the middle grades and continuing throughout high school, students and parents have many opportunities to learn about their interests and aptitudes. Caring business and community partners work with schools to offer ongoing work-based learning experiences that allow students to explore careers in a safe environment. No later than the eighth grade, students and parents begin working with teachers and counselors to develop and revise personalized programs of study that reflect their evolving goals and include one or more years of postsecondary study.

6: Make school and instruction work for students.

Schools provide all teachers with ongoing professional development and time to work in interdisciplinary teacher teams to co-plan assignments. Schools also create organizational structures and schedules that allow them to find the time needed to:

  • Organize instruction around students’ interests and abilities and create engaging, standards-driven assignments.
  • Personalize learning through greater use of technology and other strategies.
  • Empower teachers to become effective facilitators of student learning.

What Makes It Work – Nine Key Practices

Schools that shift their school and classroom practices by adopting the six Design Principles and nine Key Practices can increase the percentage of students who graduate ready for college and careers to 80 percent or more.

1. Schools provide students with access to intellectually demanding career pathway programs of study that:

  • Connect at least four pathway courses with a college-ready core of English, math, science and social studies courses. All students complete four years of math courses tailored to their career goals. Students pursuing credentials and degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields take Algebra II and higher math. Students pursuing credentials and degrees in non-STEM fields take Algebra I, geometry and two career-related math courses.
  • Include four or more career pathway courses in which a high percentage of students report completing rigorous assignments, like Advanced Career courses. Alternatively, students may complete three AP courses in STEM or the humanities or three International Baccalaureate career diploma courses.
  • Connect three stages of learning — high school, postsecondary education and the workplace — through a redesigned senior year that includes dual enrollment courses and work-based learning opportunities.
  • Connect to high-skill, high-wage, high-demand jobs that help students secure a middle-class life.
  • Organize high school curricula around career academies that provide common planning time for academic and career pathway teachers to co-plan instruction, assignments and connected learning experiences for students.
  • Connect grade-level readiness standards with rigorous instruction and assignments in career pathway courses.

2. Schools provide teachers with the ongoing professional development they need to help students master the literacy (reading, writing and oral communication) and math skills that promote success in postsecondary education and the workplace.

3. Schools extend learning time and provide personalized supports to students who need help mastering foundational academic, technical, technological, cognitive and workplace skills.

4. Schools offer specialized literacy and math readiness courses to eighth- and ninth-graders who do not meet readiness benchmarks for high school and to seniors who do not meet readiness benchmarks for postsecondary certificate, credential and degree programs or entry-level jobs in high-skill, high-wage career fields.

5. Career pathway teachers draw on real-world problems to create project-based assignments that:

  • Incorporate grade-level college- and career-readiness standards in literacy, math and science.
  • Feature the use of technology, such as coding or learning new software.
  • Encourage students to work both independently and as part of a team.

6. With the support of caring employers and community partners, students participate in a series of structured work-based learning experiences — like worksite tours, job shadows, internships and capstone projects — that help them make the connection between their academic and technical studies and the world of work. Employers and schools co-develop work-based learning plans.

7. Teachers and counselors deliver academic and career counseling and exploratory experiences that help students and parents achieve a deeper understanding of their interests, aptitudes and opportunities and set postsecondary and career goals. Teachers and counselors work with students and parents to develop personalized programs of study that prepare students for a double purpose — college and careers. These plans span high school and at least the first year of postsecondary studies, if not more.

8. During a redesigned senior year, eligible students can earn up to 30 college credits by pursuing an early college program, an early advanced credential program or both. Struggling students take readiness courses that help them master literacy and math skills.

9. Schools cultivate a culture of continuous improvement in which teachers and leaders share the goal of helping at least 80 percent of students graduate college-ready, career-ready or both — with 60 percent of graduates earning a credential or degree of value by age 25.