What does the high school of the future look like? It’s one that emphasizes useful, relevant skills that can be applied to college and the work world beyond. One that encourages students to be critical thinkers, responsible for their own actions. One that trains them to work collaboratively and push themselves to outside their comfort zones. And one that uses the benefits of technology to reach those goals.
If these are the tenets, then the folks at Napa New Technology High School in Napa, Calif., believe theirs is the model.
One of 62 schools in the New Tech Network, Napa New Tech High has turned the traditional high school model on its ear. Its objective is to deliver responsible citizens who are ready to work or go to college, and learn the skills to be prepared for the world outside the confines of school.
I visited the campus recently and came away with a clear understanding of the school’s vision. There’s a lot to cover, but in essence, I’ve boiled it down to these five ways I consider New Tech a school of the future.
1) Breeding a culture of accountability.
Aligning with the growing movement of teaching 21st century skills, one of the recurring mantras at New Tech High is the pervasive culture of respect, trust, and responsibility that goes both ways between educators and students. For instance, you’ll hear no bells signaling the end of class periods. Students are trusted to keep track of their own time, just as they would as grownups in the outside world, and to show up where they need to at the appropriate times. They can organize independent study projects with teachers and work on their own or in groups in the school’s airy atrium/cyber café. Continue reading
For a good idea to truly have a powerful impact, it needs to be replicable. And that’s what the New Tech Network is doing: teaching schools across the country how to scale the Napa New Tech model.
“When you talk about meaningful change that’s sustainable, you’re talking about a system change,” said Chris Walsh, director of innovation and design at New Tech Network, which is a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks. “What the New Tech system represents is [dismantling] the traditional model, then putting back the components so everything meshes together.”
It’s an arduous process, and one that takes a year’s worth of planning and hard work on everyone’s part, and about half a million dollars to institute. For starters, the three non-negotiables that every New Tech school must have are:
- 1-1 computers (that is, one computer for every student)
- Project-based learning
- Team teaching
And the schools must be flexible in reconfiguring the curriculum. “If you have pacing guides, and you have to cover this topic on this day, it won’t work,” Walsh said. Continue reading
Some might say it’s all well and good to teach responsibility and accountability and self-sufficiency, but what about test scores?
At Napa New Tech, the numbers speak for themselves. The school’s 2009 API scores was 818. (Napa New Tech is the first school in the New Tech Network, and was opened in 1996.) The average score of all the 62 schools in the New Tech Network for 2008 was 691, and the growth in the score between 2007 and 2008 was 10.75.
“In general, our students do better across the country in humanities, language arts, social studies, and science,” said Chris Walsh, director of innovation and design at New Tech Network. “Math is still at average. But in terms of engagement, college attendance, and graduation rates, we’re off the charts.”
He’s right. From the KnowledgeWorks Foundation (which New Tech is a subsidiary of):