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Sustaining, ‘Scaling up’ Effective Practices of Urban High Schools Focus of Research

Posted: September 24, 2012

The National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College announced today the next phase of their partnership with Broward County Public Schools to study and “scale up” effective practices of these Florida high schools.

As part of an ongoing, five-year study, researchers first studied four Broward high schools to identify what makes some large, urban high schools, such as those in Broward County, particularly effective at reaching students from high-need demographic backgrounds. This next phase of the work begins a collaborative design process where a district-wide team will come together to study the findings and design, test, adapt and implement identified practices in different contexts.

The research initiative, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute on Education Sciences, seeks to identify the combination of essential components – programs, practices, processes and policies – that make some high schools in urban districts effective with low-income and minority students, and then develop scale up tools to share those practices.

“We are excited to begin this collaboration between researchers, developers, district and school leaders and teachers to develop innovations to improve the personalization of academic and socio-emotional learning for students in Broward County Public Schools,” said Tom Smith, associate professor of leadership, policy and organizations and director of the National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools. “Our goal is for this work to both improve the learning opportunities for diverse student groups in Broward County as well as serve as a model for scale-up of innovative practices nationwide.”

In the first phase of the study, the researchers identified one major theme, personalization for academic and social learning, which will be the focus of subsequent work in Broward County Schools. Phase one findings on personalization revealed that the higher value-added schools made deliberate efforts through systematic structures to promote strong relationships between adults and students as well as personalize the learning experience. Additionally, the higher value-added schools maintained strong and reliable disciplinary systems, looked for student engagement in classrooms, discussed instructional activities that drew on students’ experiences and interests and encouraged stronger linkages with parents. This research is described in the report Identifying the Characteristics of Effective High Schools.

The partnership with Broward County Public Schools adds a second large, urban district to the center’s research. Similar research in the Fort Worth (Texas) Independent School District will also study, document and disseminate the lessons learned about scaling up and sustaining effective practices.

Design, implementation, and scale-up work is further supported by partners from the Educational Development Center, Florida State University, Georgia State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools is one of three national research centers at Peabody funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.