A Center of the Coalition of Essential Schools
Every community has an obligation to make good schools even better and to find ways for every student to succeed. The Coalition Center for Essential School Reform helps schools on this journey of continued school improvement. This work is centered on community connections, purposeful school design, participatory leadership, and strong classroom practice.
We provide powerful learning opportunities for educators and school community constituent groups. Bringing together a diverse and experienced range of leaders in school reform, the Coalition Center offers a coordinated set of services to help schools achieve their self-determined goals.
- The school should focus on helping young people learn to use their minds well. Schools should not be comprehensive if such a claim is made at the expense of the school’s central intellectual purpose.
- The school’s goals should be simple: that each student master a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. While these skills and areas will, to varying degrees, reflect the traditional academic disciplines, the program’s design should be shaped by the intellectual and imaginative powers and competencies that the students need, rather than by subjects as conventionally defined. The aphorism less is more should dominate: curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content.
- The school’s goals should apply to all students, while the means to these goals will vary as those students themselves vary. School practice should be tailor-made to meet the needs of every group or class of students.
- Teaching and learning should be personalized to the maximum feasible extent. Efforts should be directed toward a goal that no teacher have direct responsibility for more than eighty students in the high school and middle school, and no more than twenty in the elementary school. To capitalize on this personalization, decisions about the details of the course of study, the use of students’ and teachers’ time and the choice of teaching materials and specific pedagogies must be unreservedly placed in the hands of the principal and staff.
- The governing practical metaphor of the school should be student-as-worker, rather than the more familiar metaphor of teacher-as-deliverer-of-instructional-services. Accordingly, a prominent pedagogy will be coaching, to provoke students to learn how to learn and thus to teach themselves.
- Teaching and learning should be documented and assessed with tools based on student performance of real tasks. Students not yet at appropriate levels of competence should be provided intensive support and resources to assist them quickly to meet those standards. Multiple forms of evidence, ranging from ongoing observation of the learner to completion of specific projects, should be used to better understand the learner’s strengths and needs, and to plan for further assistance. Students should have opportunities to exhibit their expertise before family and community. The diploma should be awarded upon a successful final demonstration of mastery for graduationan Exhibition. As the diploma is awarded when earned, the school’s program proceeds with no strict age grading and with no system of credits earned by time spent in class. The emphasis is on the students’ demonstration that they can do important things.
- The tone of the school should explicitly and self-consciously stress values of unanxious expectation (I won’t threaten you, but I expect much of you), of trust (until abused), and of decency (the values of fairness, generosity, and tolerance). Incentives appropriate to the school’s particular students and teachers should be emphasized. Parents should be key collaborators and vital members of the school community.
- The principal and teachers should perceive themselves as generalists first (teachers and scholars in general education) and specialists second (experts in but one particular discipline). Staff should expect multiple obligations (teacher-counsel or manager) and a sense of commitment to the entire school.
- Ultimate administrative and budget targets should include, (in addition to total student loads per teacher of eighty or fewer pupils on the high school and middle school levels and twenty or fewer on the elementary level), substantial time for collective planning by teachers, competitive salaries for staff, and an ultimate per pupil cost not to exceed that at traditional schools by more than ten percent. To accomplish this, administrative plans may have to show the phased reduction or elimination of some services now provided students in many traditional schools.
- The school should demonstrate non-discriminatory and inclusive policies, practices, and pedagogies. It should model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school. The school should honor diversity and build on the strength of its communities, deliberately and explicitly challenging all forms of inequity.
The Coalition of Essential Schools was born out of A Study of High Schools, an inquiry into American secondary education, conducted under the leadership of Theodore Sizer from 1979 to 1984 with the sponsorship of the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Association of Independent Schools.
The findings of the Study were distilled in three books: Horace’s CompromiseThe Dilemma of the American High School (Houghton Mifflin, 1984), The Little Citadel, and The Shopping Mail High School.
In 1984, the Coalition of Essential Schools was established at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and twelve schools took up the challenge of putting Sizer’s Nine Common Principles into practice to become the first Essential Schools.
In 1988, the Coalition became a K-12 school reform model and began working with elementary schools. In 1997, the Coalition adopted a tenth Common Principle on democracy and equity.
The Coalition of Essential Schools has rich documentation of its effectiveness. The CES model has been adopted by a diverse group of schools representing urban, suburban, and rural districts around the United States and abroad. Schools that have fully implemented the 10 Common Principles have seen significant gains in student learning and achievement:
- In 1996 Margaret MacMullen in her work at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform published a report on the effectiveness of CES based on the review of 149 research studies of CES and like-minded efforts. Her work is entitled, Taking Stock of a School Reform Effort. MacMullen came to several conclusions:
- There is strong empirical evidence that when authentic pedagogy is in place there are two positive outcomes: (1) student achievement is greater; and (2) the positive effects apply to all students regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic backgrounds. Given the strong parallels between the first four [CES] common principles and the definition tests, this is good news for CES.
- A study by Darling-Hammond, Ancess and Falk of five case studies of CES schools found, ‘Students working on much more complex tasks, with more outside of school relevance, with much greater success than they would otherwise. And in all five [schools], the indicators of student accomplishment inside and outside school in both academic and vocational arenas are impressive.’
- Graduates of Central Park East Secondary Schoola Coalition schoolhave pointed to their senior exhibition as important to their success (Bensman, 1995).
- The Common Principles reflect the belief that both intellectual rigor and a vigorous sense of community are required for schools to be effective places for students. This dual focus has strong empirical support.
- The number and variety of positive research findings, taken together, strongly suggest that when the Common Principles are incorporated into the shared values and practices of a school community, the quality of student learning increases (regardless of gender or ethnic and social backgrounds), and the school experience is perceived as more rewarding by both students and teachers.
- A 1996 evaluation report of the Massachusetts middle and high schools that adopted the Coalition of Essential Schools model reveals promising findings:
- A significant percentage of network schools made notable gains in the 1996 Massachusetts Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), greater than the statewide percentage of schools making MEAP gains.
- The longer a Coalition school participated in the network, the greater the chance the school had of increased MEAP scores.
- Network schools had significant increases, above the state norm, In the use of effective instructional approaches, including the use of math manipulatives and extended writing.
- Eighth grade students in Coalition middle schools were taking algebra at a significantly higher rate than the state average.
- Students at Fenway High School, a Coalition Boston Public School, outperform every non-exam high school in the district on the Stanford 9 Achievement Test; college enrollment for the class of 1997 was 92%; and their daily attendance rate is 95.2%, the highest of the non-exam schools in the district.
- At Noble High School in Maine, a CES school where parental employment and education is strikingly low, in 1994 for the first time since the [Maine Educational Assessment] tests began in the 1980s, Noble students scored above the state average in every category of the MEA tests. The scores showed a substantial increase across all subjects in the percentages of students performing in the top quartile, for example from 19% to 31% in mathematics and from 19% to 26% in reading. In 1990, 35% of Noble students indicted a desire to go on to college; in 1995 that number was 65%. (MacMullen, 1996)
There is also ample evidence that the CES model has been effectively implemented across a diverse array of large and small schools, elementary, middle, and high schools, and rural, suburban, and urban schools. There are approximately 1,000 schools affiliated with the national CES:
- In her comprehensive research study of the CES model, MacMullen reported on case studies of four divergent CES schools which demonstrated significant gains in attendance, student achievement, and college-going rates, and declines in misbehavior. These schools have strong professional communities with a clear vision of high quality student learning, a high degree of collaboration and a strong sense of responsibility for students’ learning. They have narrowed their curricular offerings and have moved toward more authentic instruction. They know their students well. And they are making a big difference in their students’ performance.
- A national study on CES found that 78% of CES high schools require three or more years in science, math, English, and social studies, far above the national average of 18%. This, in part, results in 75% of CES high schools graduates enrolling in two or four year colleges, as opposed to the national average of 62%. At the elementary level, 73% of CES schools have class sizes of fewer than 25 students, as opposed to the national average of 53%.
- MacMullen reported, Given the wealth of information, it’s important to get the stories out to schools and to the public. It is also important to remember that schools can make a significant difference for students while still on the journey to total change.