The Impact of Smaller Learning Communities on Closing the Achievement Gaps among                 Student Population Groups...
AbstractThe Impact of Smaller Learning Communities on Closing the Achievement Gaps Among                     Student Popul...
leaders to seek new and effective transformation initiatives that will advance theircampuses in meeting or exceeding stude...
the difference of Smaller Learning Communities and student achievement, economicallydisadvantaged, and attendance, dropout...
Table of Contents   Abstract.................................................................................................
No Child Left Behind. .......................................................................................................
Learning and Innovation Skills ..............................................................................................
Chapter IIntroduction       Researchers continue to state the claim that high school students lack adequateacademic prepar...
millennium student and the factors that continue to contribute to a lack of success formany students.    The Bill and Meli...
student success and individual needs; and 3) instruction that offers a more relevant andintegrated delivery of curriculum....
Background of the Problem          There are several reports and studies released over the past four decades such asthe “N...
work and live, as well as changes in the way they envision the roles they play in       those organizations (p. 210).As ed...
improvement initiatives have been deployed that directly influence student learning andthe quality of teaching, but few ha...
Null Hypotheses       H01 - There is no statistically significant difference in student achievementbetween career-themed S...
difference in the achievement gap between low socioeconomic status (SES) students andnon-low socio-economic status student...
provide school leaders with data to be able to ascertain whether or not SLCs impact thegaps in student achievement, attend...
Delimitations of the Study   The delimitations of this study are:       1. This was a purposeful study. Only schools that ...
challenging tasks to develop cognitive skills through reflective thought,    analysis, problem solving, evaluation, or cre...
•   Educational Transformation: Schlechty (2009) explains it as:    “Transformation by necessity includes altering the bel...
districts and schools that fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)    toward statewide proficiency goals will, over ti...
learning opportunities; opportunities for student voice; advisory support;    postsecondary planning; and a senior project...
studies at Grades 8, 10, and 11. The Spanish TAKS™ is administered at           Grades 3 through 6. Satisfactory performan...
all findings and a conclusion. Chapter 5 will include a comprehensive discussion of theimplications of the findings and re...
Chapter II: Review of LiteratureTo Reform or Transform: A Challenge for American Schools       The rapidly changing world ...
Century, the U.S. Department of Education wrote, “Today, America faces not a streakingsatellite, but a rapidly changing gl...
concepts. First, “the 21st century learner is fundamentally different than those of the past.The instructional strategies ...
as part of his “war on poverty.” “The resulting report, Equality in EducationalOpportunity, was published in July 1966” (M...
Five recommendations were outlined as a result of A Nation at Risk. The first wasa minimum graduation curriculum that incl...
1990s: Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).       In the 1990s, a study titled Third International M...
Goals 2000: Educate America Act.       The reform efforts that resulted from A Nation at Risk raised awareness, but failed...
NCLB has created a higher awareness on what statistics have been illustrating fordecades. Significant gaps do exist betwee...
organizations launched the Strong American Schools Campaign, which urged presidentialcandidates during the 2008 election t...
competitive funds to close the achievement gap; and finally $30 billion to address collegeaffordability.        On July14,...
go beyond reform; and (3) began a transformation of the educational process. In the1960s, the space race resulted in a cal...
This type of progressive and aggressive thinking is required to move learning into newdimensions that increase overall stu...
establishing the right conditions to ensure 21st century student preparedness while closingthe achievement gaps among stud...
assisting SLC teams in understanding the benefits resulting from small-schoolcollaboration opportunities. “The first and m...
cycle of non-collaboration and produces long-term difficulties for campus teams who   are prepared to move forward with a ...
knowledge of the students’ personalities and academic strengths and weaknesses. Thissupport system increases the potential...
Fundamentally, most educators agree that relationships are a key ingredient to arewarding and academically successful stud...
grades, where they begin to fail courses, miss a lot of school, or misbehave.           The key point for promotion — or f...
thorough in-depth mastery of challenging tasks to develop cognitive skills throughreflective thought, analysis, problem so...
Figure 1 illustrates Daggett’s (2005, 2009) suggested movement from traditionalinstructional assignments to cross-curricul...
(2010) states: “You can use a simple text and still make your lesson rigorous. With theright kind of questioning and the r...
•   Business and Applied Technologies.       The major attribute of the career academy design is the connection topostseco...
preparing students for postsecondary education and employment—with the    personalized learning environment of a small, fo...
and school space (negotiating the use of common space with the host school    in the same way office building tenants arra...
Figure 2. (Note: Percentages exceed 100 percent within a school year because schools may implementmore than one SLC struct...
Numeric Change in the Projected U.S. Population by Race and Hispanic Origin:           2000 to 2050 (in millions)         ...
student academic success that will address the low graduation rates. The following chartdepicts the graduation challenges ...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M Univers...
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Alex Torrez, Dissertation Proposal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Dissertation Chair, PVAMU/Member of the Texas A&M University System

  1. 1. The Impact of Smaller Learning Communities on Closing the Achievement Gaps among Student Population Groups in Texas High Schools By Alex Elias Torrez, M.Ed. William Allan Kritsonis, Ph.D., Dissertation Chair Donald Collins, Ph.D., Committee Member Carl Gardiner, Ed.D., Committee Member Douglas Hermond, Ph.D., Committee Member Solomon Osho, Ph.D., Committee Member Dissertation Proposal in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree Educational Leadership Prairie View A&M University August 2010
  2. 2. AbstractThe Impact of Smaller Learning Communities on Closing the Achievement Gaps Among Student Population Groups in Texas High Schools August 2010 Alex Elias Torrez: B.S., Lubbock Christian University M.Ed., Sul Ross State University Dissertation Chair: William Allan Kritsonis, Ph.D. Despite a growing body of positive evidence, researchers have not yet determinedwhether or not the Smaller Learning Community (SLC) design is a viable vehicle fortransforming schools into the 21st century model necessary to ensure the students ofAmerica can compete in a global economy. The most recent education reform legislationresulting from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which mandates academic achievement forall students regardless of their cultural background, economic status, or race, once againplacing student achievement at the forefront of transformation efforts. Most educatorsagreed that closing the gap between student populations requires a unique approach toguide the conversion of traditional practices to innovative platforms that moves awayfrom teacher-centered delivery of curriculum to student-centered learning. Althoughcurrent practices in education have addressed the achievement and completion gap, thesepractices are not addressing it as effectively and efficiently as required to ensure that nochild is left behind. In addition, the reality that the United States and its youth willrequire 21st century skills to compete in a global economy is motivating educational 2
  3. 3. leaders to seek new and effective transformation initiatives that will advance theircampuses in meeting or exceeding student performance expectations. The research questions guiding this study are as follows: 1. Is there a difference in student achievement between career-themed Smaller Learning Communities (SLCs) and traditional high schools, as reported on the Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) for Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) in Reading/ELA and Mathematics for ethnic subpopulations? 2. Is there a difference in student achievement between career-themed SLCs and traditional high schools, as reported on the AEIS for TAKS in Reading/ELA and Mathematics for economically disadvantaged subpopulations? 3. Is there a difference in student attendance between career-themed SLCs and traditional high schools, as reported in the AEIS? 4. Is there a difference in student dropout/completion rates between career- themed SLCs and traditional high schools, as reported in the AEIS? Descriptive statistics will be used to compile demographic information comparingtraditional high schools and non-traditional SLC high schools. For the first two researchquestions, a series of Factorial ANOVAs will be calculated to determine if meaningfuldifferences in the areas of English Language Arts/Reading and Mathematics exist instudent achievement between the two different types of high schools. For researchquestions three and four, a series of Analysis of Covariant (ANCOVA) will be calculatedto determine if there is a meaningful difference in the areas of attendance anddropout/completion rates. An analysis of 2009 AEIS data will be conducted to determine 3
  4. 4. the difference of Smaller Learning Communities and student achievement, economicallydisadvantaged, and attendance, dropout/completion rates. The findings are still to bedetermined. 4
  5. 5. Table of Contents Abstract..................................................................................................................................................................2Abstract......................................................................................................................................2 Chapter I.................................................................................................................................................................8Chapter I.....................................................................................................................................8 Introduction..........................................................................................................................................................8 Introduction..........................................................................................................................................................8 Background of the Problem.........................................................................................................................11 Background of the Problem.........................................................................................................................11 Statement of the Problem.............................................................................................................................12 Statement of the Problem.............................................................................................................................12 Research Questions.........................................................................................................................................13 Research Questions.........................................................................................................................................13 Null Hypotheses...............................................................................................................................................14 Null Hypotheses...............................................................................................................................................14 Purpose of the Study .....................................................................................................................................14 Purpose of the Study .....................................................................................................................................14 Significance of the Study...............................................................................................................................15 Significance of the Study...............................................................................................................................15 Assumptions......................................................................................................................................................16 Assumptions......................................................................................................................................................16 Delimitations of the Study............................................................................................................................17 Delimitations of the Study............................................................................................................................17 Limitations of the Study................................................................................................................................17 Limitations of the Study................................................................................................................................17 Definitions of Terms.......................................................................................................................................17 Definitions of Terms.......................................................................................................................................17 Organization of the Study.............................................................................................................................22 Organization of the Study.............................................................................................................................22 Chapter II: Review of Literature................................................................................................................24Chapter II: Review of Literature......................................................................................24 To Reform or Transform: A Challenge for American Schools........................................................24 To Reform or Transform: A Challenge for American Schools........................................................24 Transformation of Schools...........................................................................................................................25 Transformation of Schools...........................................................................................................................25 A Historical Perspective and Motivations for Change.......................................................................26 A Historical Perspective and Motivations for Change.......................................................................26 1960s: The Sputnik effect........................................................................................................................26 1960s: The Sputnik effect.............................................................................................................................26 1980s: A Nation at Risk............................................................................................................................27 1980s: A Nation at Risk.................................................................................................................................27 1990s: Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)..................................29 1990s: Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)........................................29 Goals 2000: Educate America Act........................................................................................................30 Goals 2000: Educate America Act.............................................................................................................30 No Child Left Behind. ...............................................................................................................................30 5
  6. 6. No Child Left Behind. .....................................................................................................................................30 A New Administration..............................................................................................................................32 A New Administration...................................................................................................................................32 Impact of reform efforts...........................................................................................................................33 Impact of reform efforts................................................................................................................................33 Smaller Learning Communities..................................................................................................................34 Smaller Learning Communities..................................................................................................................34 Teacher collaboration and smaller learning communities........................................................36 Teacher collaboration and smaller learning communities.............................................................36 Relationships and smaller learning communities. ......................................................................38 Relationships and smaller learning communities. ...........................................................................38 Academic rigor, relevance, and smaller learning communities...............................................41 Academic rigor, relevance, and smaller learning communities....................................................41 The Design of Smaller Learning Communities ....................................................................................44 The Design of Smaller Learning Communities ....................................................................................44 Closing the Achievement Gaps and Smaller Learning Communities...........................................48 Closing the Achievement Gaps and Smaller Learning Communities...........................................48 The Right Steps to Successful Smaller Learning Communities ....................................................52 The Right Steps to Successful Smaller Learning Communities ....................................................52 Concluding Remarks.......................................................................................................................................55 Concluding Remarks.......................................................................................................................................55 Chapter III: Methodology.............................................................................................................................57Chapter III: Methodology...................................................................................................57 Introduction.......................................................................................................................................................57 Introduction.......................................................................................................................................................57 Research Questions.........................................................................................................................................58 Research Questions.........................................................................................................................................58 Null Hypotheses...............................................................................................................................................59 Null Hypotheses...............................................................................................................................................59 Research Method.............................................................................................................................................59 Research Method.............................................................................................................................................59 Research Design...............................................................................................................................................61 Research Design...............................................................................................................................................61 Population of the Study.................................................................................................................................63 Population of the Study.................................................................................................................................63 Instrumentation...............................................................................................................................................64 Instrumentation...............................................................................................................................................64 Procedures.........................................................................................................................................................65 Procedures.........................................................................................................................................................65 Data Analysis.....................................................................................................................................................66 Data Analysis.....................................................................................................................................................66 References..........................................................................................................................................................69References...............................................................................................................................69 Appendix A: List of 21st century skills...................................................................................................77Appendix A: List of 21st century skills..........................................................................77 Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes................................................................................................77 Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes................................................................................................77 Learning and Innovation Skills .................................................................................................................77 6
  7. 7. Learning and Innovation Skills .................................................................................................................77 Information, Media and Technology Skills ...........................................................................................77 Information, Media and Technology Skills ...........................................................................................77 Life and Career Skills .....................................................................................................................................78 Life and Career Skills .....................................................................................................................................78 Appendix B: Leading Organizations Establishing “Standards of Practice” for Career Academies...........................................................................................................................................................79 Appendix B: Leading Organizations Establishing “Standards of Practice” forCareer Academies.................................................................................................................79 Appendix C: National High School Graduation Rates, Class of 2005 .........................................80Appendix C: National High School Graduation Rates, Class of 2005 ..................80 7
  8. 8. Chapter IIntroduction Researchers continue to state the claim that high school students lack adequateacademic preparation and may even be in a decline in preparedness for 21st centurysuccess. Receiving major attention is the widening gap that researchers have determinedexists between the readiness of sub-populations and the growing number of students thatdo not graduate. It has been estimated that between 53% and 55% of minority studentsnationwide are not completing high school in the four-year format (Bill and MelindaGates Foundation, 2003, p. 2). According to Wick (2007), “The world is changing fasterand in more ways than any of us could have imagined even a few years ago. This is theworld our children inherit, yet our public schools have been among the slowestinstitutions to change” (p. 1). Most educators would agree that Frederick Taylor’s 19thcentury factory model of “one size fits all” is no longer effective in terms of addressingthe student equity gap and the required skills that 21st century graduates need to competewithin a global work force. As Feldman, Lopez, and Simon (2006) point out: The large comprehensive high school was conceived at the beginning of the twentieth century to fit an industrial society. These schools were originally expected to be sorting mechanisms for an economy that had a place for students who did not graduate. They were not intended to educate all students to the level of college readiness and the system has always done a grave disservice to some children and communities (p. 7).With student equity concerns, industry, and the global economy, educators arecontinuously challenged to find new and innovative ways to change the schoolhouseDNA. Most educators would agree that this process must start by understanding the new 8
  9. 9. millennium student and the factors that continue to contribute to a lack of success formany students. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation offer five reasons why large comprehensivehigh schools have failed to meet the needs of students: 1. Incoherence: High schools offer a dizzying array of disconnected courses with little guidance; 2. Isolation: Many teachers see more than 150 students daily. Both teachers and students have little adult contact; 3. Anonymity: High schools have doubled in size in the last generation, resulting in overcrowding and reduced student and teacher interaction; 4. Low expectations: Only one of the four to six tracks in most high schools prepares students for college; and 5. Inertia: High Schools are slow to change due to large and isolated staffs, restrictive state and district policies and employment agreements, over precise higher education entrance requirements, and an array of interest groups dictating much of school policy (Feldman, Lopez, & Simon, 2006, p. 7). According to these factors outlined by the Gates Foundation, as well as similarones from other researchers such as the U.S Department of Education raise the questionof what structure or vehicle will provide the best components needed for change. Oneproposed solution is a Smaller Learning Community (SLC) model. An SLC is designedto provide three major avenues for learning: 1) student groups divided into smaller teamsintended to improve relationships and connect students to both teachers and their school2) development of teacher teams that provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate on 9
  10. 10. student success and individual needs; and 3) instruction that offers a more relevant andintegrated delivery of curriculum. In addition, Oxley (2006) stated: The central feature of a high-functioning SLC (Small Learning Community) is an interdisciplinary team (or teams) of teachers who work closely together with a group of students they share in common for instruction. Traditional schools organize teachers around subject areas or departments. SLCs organize teachers across subject areas to create a more student-centered form of schooling (p. 22).The SLC helps students make horizontal connections among disciplines instead of havingan insulated vertical instructional experience. The teacher’s role as a leader in this transformation process is critical to thesuccess of SLCs. As the primary source for student learning and coordinators of themethodology by which the curriculum is delivered, the teacher serves as an integral partof the transformation. If the efforts of SLCs are to succeed, dedicated teachers must betrained and supported in contemporary interdisciplinary teaching strategies and therequired cross-curricula collaboration. In addition to committed teachers, academic leaders must recognize and embracethe need for educational transformation. Schools are bound by state and federalaccountability mandates to improve student achievement for all. Academic leaders whoare committed to transforming schools into educational institutions that support rigor,relevance, and relationships will find that the smaller learning community model providesmany of the requirements that improve student achievement and close the sub-populationgap, thus satisfying political mandates and enhancing 21st century skills required tosucceed in a global economy. This study is designed to determine if the smaller learningcommunity model indeed holds such promise. 10
  11. 11. Background of the Problem There are several reports and studies released over the past four decades such asthe “Nation at Risk” that has continued to raise concern regarding the public schoolsystem in America. In addition, the growing gap between populations and the increasingnumber of economically disadvantaged students must be part of the equation. Highschools in general have received the majority of negative attention, resulting in manyattempts to address concerns over the past 40 years; as Oxley (2006) explained, in the1960s, high school reformers first began organizing schools-within-schools, focusing oncareer/vocational pathways (p. 1). In the 1970s, reform efforts progressed towarddeveloping magnet programs, career academies, and mini-schools before introducingcharter schools in the 1980s. All of these attempts to reorganize schools have led to theevolution of the present-day SLC model (Oxley, 2006). To maintain the country’s competitive status in a global economy, Americaneducators must strive to meet the challenge of graduating versatile, adaptable, and highlyskilled students. This challenge encompasses finding the right design to transformeducation beyond the traditional classroom that most Americans have experienced. Thechallenge also comes with many educators venturing into uncharted territory and havingconversations about the canyons that exist between traditional instruction and meaningfultransformation. Writing about the complexity of transformation, Schlechty (2009)states: Make no mistake, transformation is not as simple as installing a new program, a new process or new procedure. Unlike efforts to improve the operation of existing systems, transformation requires more than changes in what people do; it requires changes in what they think and what they feel about what they do. It requires changes in the images people have of the organizations in which they 11
  12. 12. work and live, as well as changes in the way they envision the roles they play in those organizations (p. 210).As educators continue to have discussions about change, transformation must becomecentral to these conversations. Change is not superficial reform. It comes from the insideout. Education cannot be transformed with the same reform efforts used in the past.Statement of the Problem Despite a growing body of positive evidence, researchers have not yet determinedwhether or not the SLC model is an effective vehicle for transforming schools into amore effective model for the 21st century. However, academic leaders continue to searchfor a design to ensure that American students can compete in a global economy whilesuccessfully closing the achievement gap among sub-populations. The most recenteducational reform legislation resulting from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandatesachievement for all students regardless of their background, economic status or race, onceagain placing student success at the forefront of transformation efforts. In addition, thereality that the United States and its youth will require 21st century skills to compete in aglobal economy is motivating educational leaders to seek new and effective transforminitiatives that will allow high school campuses to meet or exceed student performanceexpectations. Selecting the appropriate method for this conversion process will be an importantdecision required for the success of educational transformation efforts. Althoughresearch on school improvement is now in its fourth decade, systematic research on whatthe change should actually be has been a major source of deliberation as school systemscontinue a traditional 19th century model of instructional delivery. Countless 12
  13. 13. improvement initiatives have been deployed that directly influence student learning andthe quality of teaching, but few have had the long-term impact required for truetransformation of the educational system. Although the SLC design, especially one thatinvolves career themes, has many elements that may meet present educationaltransformation efforts, limited research has emerged that compares this model to thetraditional high school and determines if achievement gaps between student populationsare closing.Research Questions The following questions will guide the study: 1. Is there a difference in student achievement between career-themed Smaller Learning Communities (SLCs) and traditional high schools, as reported on the Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) for Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) in Reading/ELA and Mathematics for ethnic subpopulations? 2. Is there a difference in student achievement between career-themed SLCs and traditional high schools, as reported on the AEIS for TAKS in Reading/ELA and Mathematics for economically disadvantaged subpopulations? 3. Is there a difference in student attendance between career-themed SLCs and traditional high schools, as reported in the AEIS? 4. Is there a difference in student dropout/completion rates between career- themed SLCs and traditional high schools, as reported in the AEIS? 13
  14. 14. Null Hypotheses H01 - There is no statistically significant difference in student achievementbetween career-themed SLCs and traditional high schools, as reported on the AEIS forTAKS in Reading/ELA and Mathematics for ethnic subpopulations? H02 - There is no statistically significant difference in student achievementbetween career-themed SLCs and traditional high schools, as reported on the AEIS forTAKS in Reading/ELA and Mathematics for economically disadvantaged subpopulation? H03 - There is no statistically significant difference in student attendance betweencareer-themed SLCs and traditional high schools, as reported in the AEIS? H04 - There is no statistically significant difference in student dropout/completionbetween career-themed SLCs and traditional high schools, as reported in the AEIS?Purpose of the Study The purpose of this conceptual quantitative study is to determine if a differenceexists between the implementation of the career-themed smaller SLC design and anincrease in high school students’ academic achievement, attendance, and high schoolcompletion/dropout rate between populations as reported in the Texas Education AgencyAEIS report. The study will compare 25 career-themed SLCs and 25 demographicallysimilar traditional non-SLC schools. The study will focus on three areas: first, todetermine whether or not there are statistically significant differences in the achievementgaps among ethnic sub-population TAKS scores in English language arts andMathematics when comparing career-themed Smaller Learning Communities withtraditional programs; second, to identify whether or not there is a statistically significant 14
  15. 15. difference in the achievement gap between low socioeconomic status (SES) students andnon-low socio-economic status students, based on English language arts and MathematicsTAKS scores, when comparing career-themed SLCs and traditional programs; and third,to identify whether or not a statistically significant difference in attendance andcompletion/dropout rates exists when comparing career-themed SLC students attendancecompared to those of traditional high schools. The data from each of these 3 areas will bedrawn from data reported in the AEIS for sub-populations.Significance of the Study Transforming schools into a 21st century model will be required to ensure thatAmerican students can compete in a global economy. In order to meet changingexpectations for post secondary education, as well as close the achievement gap instudent learning and instruction, educational leaders across the nation have beenimplementing the SLC design. Results gathered from this study will provide informationto educational leaders about student achievement as it relates to the effectiveness ofSLCs. Another consideration is that the sustainability of educational change created bythe SLC movement remains vulnerable to todays school district and campus financialconstraints and post-grant commitments that SLCs require. Budget cuts and the financialdeficits in most school districts have resulted in school districts selecting to cut SLCs,leaving the smaller school design and its components in the archives as just another failedinitiative. This study is an attempt to examine the difference that Career Academy SLCshave on three areas: academics, attendance, and completion/dropout rates. Themethodological protocol and the research-based literature developed by this study will 15
  16. 16. provide school leaders with data to be able to ascertain whether or not SLCs impact thegaps in student achievement, attendance, and high school completion/dropout.Educational reform efforts have been attempted for centuries and continue into the 21stcentury. It is important to understand how the design change with teachers, students, andparents may impact the future of schools. In addition, as schools are transformed and the teacher role changes within asmaller learning organization, teacher preparatory programs and professionaldevelopment may be influenced. Although not the main focus of the study, new ideasmust have the support of all leaders in the district, especially the campus administration,to successfully achieve the change required to improve student academic success,attendance, and high school completion. According to Fullan (2002), ”We now mustraise our sights and focus on principals as leaders in a culture of change and theassociated conditions that will make this possible on a large scale, sustainable basisincluding the transformation of the teaching profession” (p. 14). Most educators wouldagree that without strong central administrative and principal support, any sustainableeducational change, much less sustainable transformation, will be more difficult, if notimpossible, to achieve.Assumptions 1. The schools used as the SLC campuses are organized in the career academy model. 2. The high schools in this study are similar in demographics. 16
  17. 17. Delimitations of the Study The delimitations of this study are: 1. This was a purposeful study. Only schools that were functioning as SLC career academies were studied. 2. The study focused on public high schools that had implemented career-themed SLCs. 3. The traditional high school structure was compared to the non-traditional high school SLC career-themed design for this study. 4. The findings of this study are limited to the state of Texas.Limitations of the Study The limitations of this study are: 1. It is possible that schools implemented different components of the career- themed academy SLC design, which were not identifiable in this investigation. 2. It is possible that schools are on different implementation timelines. 3. There are a limited number of SLC schools in Texas.Definitions of Terms For the purposes of this study, the key terms to be used are defined as follows: • Academic Rigor: According to Daggett (2008), academic rigor “refers to learning in which students demonstrate a thorough in-depth mastery of 17
  18. 18. challenging tasks to develop cognitive skills through reflective thought, analysis, problem solving, evaluation, or creativity” ( p. 4).• Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) Report: The AEIS “pulls together a wide range of information on the performance of students in each school and district in Texas every year. This information is put into the annual AEIS reports, which are available each year in the fall” (Texas Education Agency, 2009).• Achievement Gap: “The achievement gaps exist when groups of students with relatively equal ability do not achieve in school at the same levels; in fact, one group often far exceeds the achievement levels of others. Gaps in achievement exist across the nation and can be found based upon race/ethnicity, income levels, language background, disability status and gender” (National Education Association, 2006).• Annual Dropouts: “The annual dropout rate is the percentage of students in a specified grade range who drop out of school during one school year. This data set includes both the number and rate of annual dropouts for all Grade 7-12 students and various student groups” (Texas Education Agency, 2009).• Career Academies: A career academy is a school-within-a-school that focuses on a broad occupational area, such as engineering, natural resources, or the hospitality industry. Teachers and students are self-selected. The career academy curriculum directs students’ attention to the application of school- based learning by including in its curriculum work-based learning experiences with businesses in the community (U.S. Department of Education, (2006). 18
  19. 19. • Educational Transformation: Schlechty (2009) explains it as: “Transformation by necessity includes altering the beliefs, values, and the culture in which programs are embedded, as well as changing the current system of rules, roles, and relationships – social structure – so that the innovation needed will be supported” (p. 3).• High school completion: “The longitudinal high school completion rate is the percentage of students in a class of beginning ninth graders who complete their high school education by their anticipated graduation date. Numbers and longitudinal rates are provided for all students and various student groups, including graduates, continuers, dropouts, and GED recipients” (Texas Education Agency, 2009).• Interdisciplinary Lesson: Occurs when teachers from two or more curricular areas (ideally sharing a common set of students) work together to plan and implement an instructional unit by identifying and applying authentic connections that transcend their individual disciplines (TexEd Consulting, 2009).• No Child Left Behind (NCLB): The NCLB Act is an accountability system covering all public schools and students based on challenging State standards in reading and Mathematics, annual testing for all students in grades 3 to 8, and annual statewide progress objectives ensuring that all groups of students reach proficiency within 12 years. Assessment results and state progress objectives must disaggregated by poverty, race, ethnicity, disability, and limited English proficiency, to ensure that no group is left behind. School 19
  20. 20. districts and schools that fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward statewide proficiency goals will, over time, be subject to improvement, corrective action, and restructuring measures aimed at getting them back on course to meet state standards. Schools that meet or exceed AYP objectives or close achievement gaps will be eligible for State Academic Achievement Awards (Texas Education Agency, 2009).• Professional development: Give teachers, principals, and administrators the knowledge and skills to provide students with the opportunity to meet challenging State academic content standards and student academic achievement standards (United States Department of Education, 2004).• Smaller Learning Community (SLC): Any separated and defined school- within-a-school or individualized learning unit within a larger school setting. Students and teachers are scheduled together and frequently have a common area of school in which to hold most or all of their classes. SLC may or may not have a career theme or a set sequence of courses for students. The most comprehensive SLCs include: an administrative structure with a principal, lead teacher, and guidance counselor; a heterogeneous team of students and teachers (ranging in size from 350-500, with sub teams of 150); a home base or specific section of the school; an academic focus or career theme; extra help for students; data to drive decisions; time used effectively, including common planning time for teachers; coaching support and focused professional development for staff; inculcated traditions, practices, and beliefs; freshman orientation and support; service learning and work-based 20
  21. 21. learning opportunities; opportunities for student voice; advisory support; postsecondary planning; and a senior project (Sammon, 2008, p. 13).• Relevant Learning: According to Daggett (2008), relevant learning “refers to learning in which students apply core knowledge, concepts, or skills to solve real-world problems” (p. 5).• Student Engagement: The extent to which students are motivated and committed to learning, have a sense of belonging and accomplishment, and maintain relationships with adults, peers, and parents that support learning (Daggett, 2009).• Sustainable Educational Change: Sustainability in educational change consists of five key and interrelated characteristics: (1) improvement that fosters learning, not merely change that alters schooling; (2) improvement that endures over time; (3) improvement that can be supported by available or obtainable resources; (4) improvement that does not negatively affect the surrounding environment of other schools; and (5) Improvement that promotes ecological diversity and capacity throughout the educational and community environment (Hargreaves & Fink, 2003).• Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills: “As mandated by the 76th Texas Legislature in 1999, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS™) was administered beginning in the 2002-2003 school year. The TAKS™ measures the statewide curriculum in reading at Grades 3 to 9; in writing at Grades 4 and 7; in English Language Arts at Grades 10 and 11; in Mathematics at Grades 3 to 11; in science at Grades 5, 10, and 11; and social 21
  22. 22. studies at Grades 8, 10, and 11. The Spanish TAKS™ is administered at Grades 3 through 6. Satisfactory performance on the TAKS™ at Grade 11 is a prerequisite to a high school diploma” (Texas Education Agency, 2009). • Transformation: The transformation of a school “requires several significant shifts – from unconnected thinking to systems thinking, from an environment of isolation to one of collegiality, from perceived reality to information-driven reality, and from individual autonomy to collective autonomy and collective accountability” (Zmuda, Kuklis, & Kline, 2004). • Twenty-first century skills: Competencies needed to succeed in the current economy and prepare for the changing world as a wage earner and citizen (see Appendix A for complete details).Organization of the Study This study will consist of five chapters. Chapter 1 contains the introduction,background of the problem, statement of the problem, research questions, purpose of thestudy, significance of this study, assumptions, delimitations and limitations, anddefinition of terms. Chapter 2 is a comprehensive review of the literature on thehistorical perspective of reform efforts, learning organizations, Smaller LearningCommunities, and the role of the teacher, principal, and district in Smaller LearningCommunities. Chapter 3 describes the study methodology, including the researchquestions, hypotheses, design strategy, underlying assumptions and rationale, samplingdesign, measures applied for data collection and analysis procedures, and limitations ofthe methodology. The expected findings will be briefly discussed. Chapter 4 will offer acomprehensive review of the data analysis and findings before providing a summary of 22
  23. 23. all findings and a conclusion. Chapter 5 will include a comprehensive discussion of theimplications of the findings and recommendations for future studies. 23
  24. 24. Chapter II: Review of LiteratureTo Reform or Transform: A Challenge for American Schools The rapidly changing world has accelerated the discussions of educators, industryleaders, and politicians regarding the quality of the nation’s schools and whethergraduates are prepared to enter post-secondary education, as well as the work force. Theexpectations of America’s graduates have been changing, yet the educational system hasremained largely stagnant since the early 1900s. Grubb (2007) lamented, “The highschool has been extraordinarily averse to change: At least 70 years of criticism havefailed to dent this 19th century institution” (p. 33). Americans continue to be comfortablewith the present platform for delivering instruction; this has resulted in a lack of successfor educational innovations and limited political pressure to motivate systemic change.Contributing to the lack of political attention is the reality that the populations with mostto benefit are the farthest removed from the circle of influence. Lofstrom (2007) states,“The majority of Hispanic and African-American students attend schools located incentral cities. Students in these two minority groups also attend schools in district withlower expenditure per pupil” (p. 8). Nevertheless, transforming schools continues to be a concern that has producedfederal and state mandates, as well as recommendations, with a focus on closing the sub-population achievement gap and preparing students for post-secondary and 21st centuryopportunities. Current U.S. high school students will experience multiple career changesand will likely be employed in occupations that do not exist at this time. In a 2006 report,Answering the Challenge of a Changing World Strengthening Education for the 21st 24
  25. 25. Century, the U.S. Department of Education wrote, “Today, America faces not a streakingsatellite, but a rapidly changing global workforce. The spread of freedom is spurringtechnological innovation and global competition at a pace never before seen” (p. 4).Given the changes in the global economy and the requirements of the 21st centurystudent, the U.S. educational system cannot continue to provide the same type ofinstruction that it has implemented in the past. As Wolfe (2007) explained, "In virtuallyany occupation, learning is part of the job. Gone are the days when employees learned tomaster a single task and then spent the next 40 years repeating that task” (p. 40).Consequently, educators must remain flexible and innovative to keep up with the needsof the new millennium student and close the achievement gaps among student sub-populations.Transformation of Schools As school districts work on the concept of change, they must go beyond thestandard thinking of reforming processes and procedures or introducing the latestteaching fad. These methods of attempting change have proven to be mostly ineffectiveand short-lived. The buffet-style approach has also contributed to a passive resistance ineducators, creating the belief that this initiative too shall pass. Academic leaders mustthink about changing the way schooling is delivered and structured if true transformationis to be accomplished. Schlechty (2009) stated, “Transformation by necessity includesaltering the beliefs, values, and meanings – the culture – in which programs areembedded, as well as changing the current system of rules, roles, and relationships –social structure – so that the innovations needed will be supported” (p. 3). In order to gainthe support required to move the process forward, educators must understand several 25
  26. 26. concepts. First, “the 21st century learner is fundamentally different than those of the past.The instructional strategies and practices used will vary based upon how these studentslearn best” (Daggett, 2008, p. 1). Second, “schools must be transformed from platformsfor instruction to platforms for learning, from bureaucracies bent on control to learningorganizations aimed at encouraging disciplined inquiry and creativity” (Schlechty, 2009,p. 5). Finally, educators must learn from past lessons that resulted in failure or short-livedsuccesses. A commitment to long-term financial support, professional development, andthe support of a belief system that matches the changing student learning styles and needsis crucial to any conversation about real transformation.A Historical Perspective and Motivations for Change 1960s: The Sputnik effect. The history of public education has been overshadowed by criticisms of notmeasuring up to world standards. According to Schramm, Williams, Krasnow,Grossman, and Walters (2008), “The systems and infrastructure [of education] have notchanged in line with what is now needed to ready U.S. workers to compete in this newglobal economy” (p. 6). The criticism of Americans schools in the second half of thecentury was again ignited by the launching of the Russian space capsule, Sputnik, in1957. Surprised and stunned by this event, the American public became more observantof critics who claimed that U.S. schools lacked the rigor to compete in the race for spaceand national security. The resulting criticisms of U.S. education prompted President Johnson toauthorize the Commissioner of Education to conduct a nationwide survey of U.S. Schools 26
  27. 27. as part of his “war on poverty.” “The resulting report, Equality in EducationalOpportunity, was published in July 1966” (Marzano, 2003, p. 2). Although the report wasdeveloped by seven authors, it was titled “The Coleman Report” (1966), named after itssenior author. The results of the study only intensified findings such as the following: Taking all these results together, one implication stands above all: that schools bring little to bear on a child’s achievement that is independent of his background and general social context; and that this very lack of an independent effect means that the inequalities imposed on children by their home, neighborhood, and peer environment are carried along to become the inequities with which they confront life at the end of school (p. 325).The study concluded that there was a strong correlation between student academicachievement and family background. As a result of The Coleman Report, severalresearchers conducted studies to support and dispel the findings in the report. 1980s: A Nation at Risk. In 1983, with much fanfare, the White House released A Nation at Risk: TheImperative for Educational Reform to the American public. The report that was preparedby a prestigious committee steered by Secretary of Education Terrell Bell was fueled bythe fact that President Ronald Reagan endorsed it in one of his speeches. The reportstates that both the American society and educational institutions had lost sight of thebasic purposes of schooling and that our educational institutions were accepting mediocreperformance from our students (The National Commission on Excellence in Education,1983). Findings in the report were centered on curriculum, expectations, time, andteaching. In addition to the “Nation at Risk” report, Schlechty (2009) states that, “In the1980s, the apparent ascendance of Japanese over American manufacturers was attributedto the rising tide of mediocrity that was said to be besetting America’s schools” (p. 4). 27
  28. 28. Five recommendations were outlined as a result of A Nation at Risk. The first wasa minimum graduation curriculum that included the following: “(a) 4 years of English;(b) 3 years of Mathematics; (c) 3 years of science; (d) 3 years of social studies; and (e)one-half year of computer science. For the college-bound, two years of foreign languagein high school are strongly recommended in addition to those taken earlier” (NationalCommission on Excellence in Education, 1983). The second recommendation in thereport suggested raising expectations of students by setting higher graduationrequirements for admission into colleges and universities. The third recommendationwas to make more effective use of a school day as well as lengthen the school day andschool year. The fourth was a seven-part recommendation made in an effort to improveteaching and make it a more rewarding and respected profession. The fifth and finalrecommendation of the commission was the recommendation that citizens elect officialswho would be responsible for leading the reform efforts by creating stability andproviding the fiscal support to reform American schools. Most of the recommendations were not out of the realm of what education couldconsider; however, the following statement was insightful and aligned with the 21stcentury student achievement conversations that have been difficult to fully implement:“We must emphasize that the variety of student aspirations, abilities, and preparationrequires that appropriate content be available to satisfy diverse needs. Attention must bedirected to both the nature of the content available and to the needs of particular learners”(National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). 28
  29. 29. 1990s: Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). In the 1990s, a study titled Third International Mathematics and Science Study(TIMSS) again raised questions regarding the proficiency of U.S. schools. “The ThirdInternational Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is the largest and most ambitiousinternational study of student achievement ever conducted. In 1994–1995, it wasconducted at five grade levels in more than 40 countries (the third, fourth, seventh, andeighth grades, and the final year of secondary school” (TIMISS 1995 Home Page). Thefirst report indicated that 4th grade students performed average when compared tostudents from other countries, but found a notable drop in the 8th grade students; futurereports found that 12th grade American students preformed much lower than theircounterparts in other countries. During a 1998 press conference on 12th grade TIMSSresults, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley observed the following, “These resultsare entirely unacceptable, and absolutely confirm our need to raise our standards ofachievement, testing, and teaching, especially in our middle and high schools --and to getmore serious about taking math and science courses” (Riley, 1998). Once again, the callto action was made as Secretary Riley outlined five areas needing to be addressed in aneffort to increase student achievement. The steps included 1) building a foundation inmiddle school; 2) raising state assessment standards; 3) recommending four years of mathand science; 4) ensuring more teachers were prepared to teach math and science; and 5)concluding much like the Nation at Risk report, with a call to arms: “as a nation, we mustmake sure that all students – not just the elite or the brightest – understand the importanceof math and science in their lives” (Riley, 1998). 29
  30. 30. Goals 2000: Educate America Act. The reform efforts that resulted from A Nation at Risk raised awareness, but failedto accelerate student achievement to the desired level. Consequently, the Goals 2000:Educate America Act (P.L. 103-227) was signed into law on March 31, 1994. The Actestablished eight guiding principles aimed at improving student achievement: first, wasthe expectation that all children would start school ready to learn; second, an increase inthe high school graduation rate to at least 90 percent; third, an expectation that students ingrades 4, 8, and 12 would demonstrate competency in the core subjects and that schoolsshould ensure students use their minds, helping them be more productive employees andcitizens; fourth, set the expectation that the U.S. would lead the world in math andscience achievement; fifth, adult literacy for every American; sixth, drug, weapon, andviolence-free schools; seventh, increase teacher professional development; and finally,increase parental involvement. Every state and their educational leaders were expected toreform their schools to achieve all eight national goals by 2000. No Child Left Behind.President George W. Bush announced what he called “the cornerstone” of hisadministration, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Rajala (2003) emphasizes that, asa result of NCLB, the role of the federal government has changed by asking schools todescribe success in terms of what each student accomplishes. It is the latest reform effortin a series of initiatives featuring high-stakes accountability, student achievement,standards, and parental choice. 30
  31. 31. NCLB has created a higher awareness on what statistics have been illustrating fordecades. Significant gaps do exist between minority and majority students as well as theeconomically disadvantaged. Among minority students, the problem is even more severewith nearly 50 percent of African American and Hispanic students not completing highschool on time (Americas Promise Alliance, 2009). The achievement gap is not closingfast enough to ensure improved living and earning opportunities for these sub-populations. According to Zhao (2009), “these gaps almost certainly put the minorities ata disadvantage for securing high-income jobs in the future. Plenty of evidence shows theclose association between amount of education and future earnings” (p.13). As theUnited States continues to make progress recovering from the present economicrecession, the academic achievement gaps, as illustrated in Appendix C, show the2004-2005 graduation rates as 50.6 percent for Native Americans, 55.3 percent forBlacks, and 57.8 percent for Hispanic students. Although there are reports that many states are making progress, the significantacademic achievement gaps between student sub-populations continue to draw social andpolitical attention, which has brought to light the need to transform schools for futurenational and individual economic benefits. The Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing theGraduation Gap report stated: “Notably, earning a high school diploma has increasinglybeen described not just as a source of individual economic benefit but also as an essentialfoundation for the nation’s competitiveness in a rapidly globalizing world economy”(Swanson, 2009). Social awareness and concern regarding the need to complete highschool resulted in the call to action from several organizations, including The Bill andMelinda Gates Foundation and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. These 31
  32. 32. organizations launched the Strong American Schools Campaign, which urged presidentialcandidates during the 2008 election to continue the dialogue on education. Theseconversations resulted in three suggestions, which are closely correlated to many of thefundamental concepts promoted by the Smaller Learning Community (SLC) model. As part of its call to action, the Strong American Schools Campaign, the Bill andMelinda Gates Foundation (2007) urged leaders to address and debate three common-sense priorities: 1. Strong American education standards. Regardless of where they live, all students need to acquire knowledge and skills that prepare them for college, for the workplace, and for life. 2. Effective teachers in every classroom. We need to enable teachers to improve their skills, measure teachers’ performance in the classroom, and pay them more if they produce superior results or take on challenging assignments. 3. More time and support for learning. We need to provide successful and struggling students alike more time for in-depth learning and greater personal attention. A New Administration. President Obama’s education plan has focused on reestablishing the U.S. as theworld leader in education. In addition, the 2009 American Recovery and ReinvestmentAct includes $5 billion for early learning programs; $77 billion for elementary andsecondary education; $48.6 billion to stabilize state education budgets; $5 billion for 32
  33. 33. competitive funds to close the achievement gap; and finally $30 billion to address collegeaffordability. On July14, 2009, President Barack Obama stated the following: “…but, we alsohave to ensure that were educating and preparing our people for the new jobs of the 21stcentury. Weve got to prepare our people with the skills they need to compete in thisglobal economy” (The White House Office Press Secretary, 2009). The statement was followed by the announcement of The American GraduationInitiative: Stronger American Skills through Community Colleges. In addition, thePresident’s remarks included the following goal: “By 2020, this nation will once againhave the highest proportion of college graduates in the world” (The White House OfficePress Secretary, 2009). The American Initiative is an effort to strengthen the nation’s community collegesand provides an affordable education to ensure a stronger 21st century economy. Theplan also calls for: five million additional community college graduates; creating acommunity college challenge fund; funding innovative strategies for completion;modernizing facilities; and creating new online skills laboratories. In addition, the Obama-Biden College Agenda expands Pell Grants, collegecredits, and focuses on reforming the student loan program, expanding the loan agentparticipation base beyond banks and other government lenders. Impact of reform efforts. For the past four decades, politicians have called for education reform. In theUnited States, the education reform movement has: (1) focused increasingly on thedevelopment of new standards for both students and teachers; (2) intensified with a call to 33
  34. 34. go beyond reform; and (3) began a transformation of the educational process. In the1960s, the space race resulted in a call for more academic rigor. In the 1980s, the WhiteHouse released A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. The 1990sbrought the TIMSS reports and Goals 2000, and former President George W. Bush leftschools with the legacy of NCLB. Public school reform has been at the forefront ofpolitical agendas for decades, leaving no American President without the challenge ofaddressing education. Now, President Barack Obama has the opportunity to lead ournation beyond reform and to transform the American education system. A challenge for transformational efforts will continue to be the inconsistenthistory of the many different initiatives that have resulted from past reform efforts. Untilrecently, educational transformation was done in a disjointed manner. Legter (1999)states, “More and more educators are understanding that piecemeal reform too oftenproduces a confusing and inefficient proliferation of programs that generates resourcebattles, reinforces inequity, and ultimately helps only a few students” (p. 23). As thenation transitions from one President’s educational agenda to a new President’s agenda,the challenge for educators will be to establish sound research based on ideas andinitiatives that will result in change and by doing so, ensure the academic achievement,equality among student populations, and 21st century skills required for students tocompete in the 21st century global society.Smaller Learning Communities In the context of education, transformation may be defined as moving schoolsfrom 19th century traditional platforms, which are centered on the instructor andinstruction, to learning environments that meet students’ ability and knowledge levels. 34
  35. 35. This type of progressive and aggressive thinking is required to move learning into newdimensions that increase overall student academic success and close the achievementgaps among student sub-populations. Schools committed to changing the design ofinstructional delivery have the best opportunity to institute an environment, whichidentifies student academic needs as the principal focus for success. Educators who wantto lead schools effectively through the 21st century have the task of establishing adirection for standards and design that ensures rigor, relevance and relationships in orderto benefit students and prepare them for a global economy. Finding the best vehicle to move a school forward is first and foremost a decisionfor innovative school leaders. Many educators have implemented career-themed SmallerLearning Community (SLC) models as a means to advance the transformation process.Torrez and Kritsonis (2008) state that “implementing smaller learning communities inlarge schools can be argued as the best way to advance student achievement and improveteacher professional learning” (p. 60). The benefits associated with dividing schools into SLCs have increased theinterest in this type of school design. “Research has been rapidly accumulating that, asfar as high schools are concerned, size does matter – and smaller is better” (Daniels,Bizar, and Zemelman, 2001). Student achievement in small schools has been found to besuperior to that in large schools (Bates 1993; Eberts, Kehoe, and Stone 1982; Eicherstein1994; Fowler and Walberg 1991; Kershaw and Blank 1993; Miller, Ellsworth, andHowell 1986; Robinson-Lewis 1991; Walberg 1992) (as cited in Cotton, 1996).Restructuring high schools by creating career-themed SLCs represents a major steptoward personalizing education, creating a different platform for learning, and 35
  36. 36. establishing the right conditions to ensure 21st century student preparedness while closingthe achievement gaps among student sub-populations. SLCs consist of three mainconcepts that may prove to be the design required to transform schools. These conceptsare as follows: create a culture of collaboration for students and educators to ensureauthentic and relevant learning; create smaller schools-within-schools to ensure thatstudents benefit from meaningful relationships with both peers and educators; and, as aresult of collaboration, relevant learning, and relationships, smaller schools support theacademic rigor necessary to ensure competitive 21st century graduates. Teacher collaboration and smaller learning communities. The traditional model of education creates a system in which most teachers areaccustomed to being isolated from their peers, and the primary topics of discussion arecontent and curriculum instead of shared students and individual academic needs. Ifschools are to effectively address important issues such as student achievement,attendance, and completion/dropout rates, academic leaders must give teachers the timeand place to collaborate. Oxley (2006) states: “Smaller Learning Communities aremaximally effective when interdisciplinary team members share students in common andare thereby able to pool their knowledge of students, communicate consistent messages,and create coherent instructional programs” (p. 21). Providing common planningopportunities without giving up instructional time within the school day continues to beone of the biggest obstacles to transformation. Besides creating a schedule that allows common planning, establishing anenvironment that supports increased collaboration requires instituting an effectiveProfessional Learning Community (PLC) initiative. The PLC is a foundation for 36
  37. 37. assisting SLC teams in understanding the benefits resulting from small-schoolcollaboration opportunities. “The first and most fundamental task of building acollaborative culture is to bring together those people whose responsibilities create aninherent mutual interest in exploring the critical question of PLC” (DuFour, DuFour,Eaker, & Many, 2006). In addition, the SLC model, by its design of grouping teachersand students, assists the enhancement and support of the PLC initiative. In a report on 21st century high schools titled Breaking Ranks: Changing anAmerican Institution, working in communities is supported as a best practice. The reportstated: The success of a high school depends on its being more than a collection of unconnected individuals. The word “community” implies a commonality of interests and so it should be in any high school. The building of community very much involves the members of the staff. And, on a practical level, the synergy of cooperation ought to end up enabling the educators in a high school to accomplish more for the students than they could by acting on their own. School improvement more readily succeeds in situations in which teachers work in a collegial manner (National Association of Secondary School Principals, (2001 p. 90).Despite the obstacles that are associated with changing the paradigm of meaningfulcollaboration, common benefits include the possibility of enhancing student relationshipswith peers and faculty, increased academic achievement, improved attendance, anddecreased dropout rates. These results can help to encourage and support the idea ofinnovation. It is important to note that establishing PLCs to enhance SLC teams may result in some opposition. Torrez and Kritsonis (2008) state: “the challenge for administrators is overcoming the established traditional school and familiar structure that creates an environment of isolation for teachers” (p. 64). This disconnect creates a negative 37
  38. 38. cycle of non-collaboration and produces long-term difficulties for campus teams who are prepared to move forward with a more collaborative approach to teaching. DuFour (2005) noted: “Despite compelling evidence indicating that working collaboratively represents best practice, teachers in many schools continue to work in isolation” (p. 36). Therefore, a major focus for education leaders is to establish the right framework and purpose for teachers to have meaningful collaboration, moving away from traditional isolation to a more personalized learning environment. Miller and Rollnick (2002) found that “motivation is in many ways an interpersonal process, the product of an interaction between people" (p. 22). Most educators would agree that bridging the divide between a structure that has been mostly non-collaborative to one that provides an opportunity for teachers to work together create new relationships, and focus on individual students is a critical factor in ensuring the right academic setting for students and teachers. Senge, Cambron-McCabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton and Kleiner (2000) state, “A strong professional community encourages collective endeavor rather than isolated individual efforts” (p. 327). Developing a sense of teamwork and an understanding of the strength of collective collaboration will be crucial to breaking down institutional isolationism and to transform schools. Relationships and smaller learning communities. Educators and students in large high schools are familiar with the difficulties ofdeveloping meaningful relationships. A benefit associated with SLCs is that teachers aregrouped into smaller schools or teams that work with the same cohort of studentsassigned to that community. In addition, the structure provides a teacher, who haslimited or no history with a group of students, the support of an existing cohort who has 38
  39. 39. knowledge of the students’ personalities and academic strengths and weaknesses. Thissupport system increases the potential to assist struggling learners and improve the grade-level transition process. Substantiating studies have established that students need relationships withadults as part of a healthy learning environment. Adult connections and personalizationimprove the school experience. An important component to closing the achievement gapamong student populations is the personalization that occurs as a result of the smallerlearning community model. Each student needs to know at least one adult in the school is closely concerned with his or her fate…The relationship between the student and the advocate should ensure that no youngster experiences the sense of isolation that frequently engulfs teenagers during this critical period of their lives. Having someone on his or her side can help a young person feel a part of the school community (National Association of Secondary Principals, 2001, p. 31). A feeling of belonging can begin a process that crosses cultural histories andeconomic social barriers, bringing students to a common place so that academic successcan flourish, attendance can improve, and graduation plans can be realized. The sense ofconnectedness that comes from belonging to a group helps students have the confidenceto engage in authentic conversations with caring adults about the importance ofcontinuing to improve academically. If high achievement for all students is the goal of reform, then personalization anda rigorous curriculum are two essential ingredients. Although some students might beable to make it through four years of high school despite the lack of any personalconnections, all students require a supportive environment-some more than others.Creating that environment is essential to bringing learning to fruition. (NationalAssociation of Secondary Principals, 2004, p. 67). 39
  40. 40. Fundamentally, most educators agree that relationships are a key ingredient to arewarding and academically successful student experience. Many students fail tocomplete high school due to a lack of connection to adult educators at their schools. TheGrad Nation Guidebook (America’s Promise Alliance, 2009) cited some of the followingas reasons that students fail to complete school: • Life Events: Students drop out because of an event or a need outside of school. Pregnancy, incarceration or out-of-home placement in the juvenile justice system, health problems, aging out of foster care, caring for an ill family member, or needing to work to support themselves or family members are the most frequent factors. • Fade Outs: Students drop out because they no longer see the point of staying in school. Often these are students with decent grades and attendance records who at some point become bored, frustrated, or disillusioned with school and believe they can make it in life on their own without a high school diploma. • Push Outs: Some students may be viewed as behavioral problems or low achievers, and/or they seldom attend school. Once these students reach the legal dropout age, sometimes their schools apply administrative rules — related to suspensions, inadequate credits earned by a certain age, or chronic absenteeism — to remove them from school or transfer them to another school. • Failure to Succeed in School: Students drop out of school because they do not pass enough courses or earn enough credits to be promoted to the next grade. Many of these dropouts begin to fall off the path to graduation in the middle 40
  41. 41. grades, where they begin to fail courses, miss a lot of school, or misbehave. The key point for promotion — or failure — is from 9th to 10th grade. These students often have to repeat the entire 9th grade and, without any supports, do no better the second time. At some point after repeated attempts to succeed (though often with decreasing effort), it seems to them that they will never succeed in school, so they drop out. (p. 26-7) As educators struggle to understand the many dynamics that contribute to astudent’s poor attendance, lack of academic achievement, and low completion/dropoutrates, especially among student sub-populations, the personalization of education must beharnessed more effectively than in previous decades. SLCs may provide an effective wayfor students to build more relationships with teachers, thereby enhancing their experienceof school, as well as their academic achievement and related factors. Academic rigor, relevance, and smaller learning communities. Future graduates will continue to require increased academic preparation andskills in order to be successful in the rapidly changing postsecondary landscape. Thisreality will require educators to have a clear understanding of how academic rigor andrelevance will be a part of gearing up students. Lopez (2006) states, “The emergingnational consensus argues that all students should have access to the rigor and standardsof a college prep program curriculum, and high school standards must be more firmlyanchored in the skills demanded by colleges and real world employers” (p. 17). Thecontinued emphasis on academic rigor has been driven by the statistics showing thatmany students who attend two and four-year colleges need remedial coursework.Daggett (2008) defines academic rigor as “learning in which students demonstrate a 41
  42. 42. thorough in-depth mastery of challenging tasks to develop cognitive skills throughreflective thought, analysis, problem solving, evaluation, or creativity” (p. 2). Educatorsthat understand the shift in demands from both colleges and present day employers knowthat rigors curriculum must be balanced by allowing students to apply their real worldknowledge giving them the content relevance required to be creative and innovative. The application of instructional rigor and relevance to improve the level ofstudent engagement must be of utmost importance if schools are to address the needs ofstudents, especially those of who have traditionally been disconnected and, therefore,academically unsuccessful. Through the SLC design, teachers are provided a structure tocollaborate and build more authentic interdisciplinary and thematic lessons, a majorcomponent of the framework that creates genuine student engagement and elevatesacademic achievement. According to Lee (2003), instructional assignments that connectto real-world problems and offer the opportunity for creativity and problem solvingmotivate students and dramatically increase the quality of teaching and learning.Providing the right structure for teachers to collaborate and connect learning beyond theirown discipline, while creating rigorous and relevant instructional assignments, is at thecore of bridging the sub-population academic gap. Daggett (2005) supports these ideas bynoting: Studies have shown that students understand and retain knowledge best when they have applied it in a practical, relevant setting. [An educator] who relies on lecturing does not provide students with optimal learning opportunities. Instead, students go to school to watch the teacher work. The International Center’s Rigor/Relevance Framework is a powerful tool that has captured the imagination of teachers to aspire to teach students to high rigor and high relevance. All educators can use the Rigor/Relevance Framework to set their own standards of excellence as well as to plan the objectives they wish to achieve. This versatile Framework applies to standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. (p. 2). 42
  43. 43. Figure 1 illustrates Daggett’s (2005, 2009) suggested movement from traditionalinstructional assignments to cross-curricular and career-skill relevance. As educatorsdevelop and utilize instructional assignments and strategies that connect learning from Aand C quadrants into the B and D quadrants, students will benefit from their expandedapplied learning. According to Daggett (2009), educators who require utilization andapplication of 21st century skills (see Appendix A for details) in the D quadrant increasethe likelihood that students learn and are able to apply knowledge in quadrants A, B, andC, as well as on state assessments. 6 Evaluation D 5 Synthesis C Adaptation Assimilation 4 Analysis 3 Application A B 2 Comprehension Acquisition Application 1 Knowledge 1 2 3 4 5 Knowledge Apply Apply Apply Apply in one knowledge in knowledge knowledge to knowledge to discipline one across real-world, real-world, discipline disciplines predictable unpredictable situations situationsFigure 1. Rigor/relevance framework with progression of assignments arrow. Adaptedfrom Achieving Academic Excellence Through Rigor and Relevance, by W. R. Daggett,2005, http://www.daggett.com/pdf/Academic_Excellence.pdf, and The Solutions toSchool Improvement, by W. Daggett, 2009, Symposium hosted by the Harris CountyDepartment of Education. As shown by the arrow in Figure 1, educators seeking to provide qualityinstructional assignments that connect learning to real-world situations must start byunderstanding the basic framework that drives this philosophy. Unfortunately, rigor andrelevance have almost become a cliché in the educational arena. This fact makes itnecessary for educators to understand that rigor does not mean more and harder, butrather the depth of teaching and the clarity of learning for students during a lesson. Davis 43
  44. 44. (2010) states: “You can use a simple text and still make your lesson rigorous. With theright kind of questioning and the right kind of activities, you can make students delvedeeper into a text regardless of its length and/or complexity” (p. 14) Instructional assignments that are interdisciplinary are more likely balanced inmultiple quadrants of the Rigor/Relevance Framework. The most effective instructionalassignments are designed to help students move from quadrant A to quadrant D as theircontent knowledge increases. Students who have the strongest quadrant A knowledgemay have the best opportunity to move seamlessly to other quadrants. In addition, it islikely that students may learn a concept better in quadrant B when application to real-world situations is connected to the learning. The ultimate goal for educators is to teachlessons that help students work in quadrants B and D, assisting them in developing skillsthat aid in post-secondary education, as well as becoming more competitive in a 21stcentury global economy. Educators must provide students with the opportunity topractice what to do when students do not know what to do (Daggett, 2008).The Design of Smaller Learning Communities For the purpose of this study, the Career Academy SLC structure was selected asthe main focus. Although there may be different variations of the career academies, mostare designed in some form with the following areas of career fields: • Communication, Law, and Social Services; • Design, Technology, and Engineering; • Visual and Performing Arts; • Medical and Health Sciences; and 44
  45. 45. • Business and Applied Technologies. The major attribute of the career academy design is the connection topostsecondary discussions, based on the career choice component. Career academies areconsidered to have the potential to reengage high school students in the learning processbecause they allow students to exercise a voice in determining the trajectory of theirexperiences in high schools. The connection to career choice leads to endlesspossibilities for teachers to connect student learning to relevant experiences and supportstudent discussions regarding potential career interests, along with the skills required toobtain the career. In addition, the career academy SLC design is conducive tointerdisciplinary instruction, which must be a major element of SLCs so that studentsmake the connections across disciplines and to real world situations. The CareerAcademy Network defines career academies as: “… a small learning community within a high school, which selects a subset of students and teachers for a two-, three-, or four-year period. Students enter through a voluntary process; they must apply and be accepted, with parental knowledge and support. While academies vary in size, they usually have from one to three sections of students at each grade level, or 100-300 students in all.” This definition was agreed upon in 2005 by leading organizations (see Appendix B for complete details). There are different types of SLCs that may be more suitable for different schoolsbased on their academic status, culture, or community expectations. The U.S. Departmentof Education (2006) describes four mains SLC structures: • Structure I: Academies are subgroups within schools, organized around particular themes. For example, career academies combine key principles of the school-to-career movement—integrating academic and vocational instruction, providing work-based learning opportunities for students, and 45
  46. 46. preparing students for postsecondary education and employment—with the personalized learning environment of a small, focused learning community. Teachers and students integrate academic and occupation-related classes as a way to enhance real-world relevance and maintain high academic standards. Local employer partnerships provide program planning guidance, mentors, and work internships. Career academies share with other restructuring initiatives an emphasis on building relationships between students and adults (teachers as well as work-site supervisors and other employer representatives).• Structure II: House plans divide students in a large school into groups of several hundred, either across grade levels or by grade levels. Students take some or all courses with their house members and from their house teachers. House arrangements may be yearlong or multiyear arrangements. House plans personalize the high school experience but usually have limited effect on curriculum or instruction. Each house usually has its own discipline plan, student government, social activities, and other extracurricular activities, although students may also participate in activities of the larger school. Grouping ninth-graders into a separate house is one way to ease freshman transition to high school.• Structure III: A school-within-a-school is a small, autonomous program housed within a larger school building. Schools-within-schools are generally responsible to the district rather than to the host school’s principal, and are formally authorized by the superintendent or board of education. Schools- within-schools have their own culture, program, personnel, students, budget, 46
  47. 47. and school space (negotiating the use of common space with the host school in the same way office building tenants arrange for use of shared conference facilities). Like an academy, the school-within-a-school structure supports constructive relationships between and among students and teachers by grouping students together each year to take core courses with the same group of teachers, thus increasing the supports students receive from peers, teachers, and other adults.• Structure IV: Magnet programs use a specialty core focus (such as math, science, creative arts, or a career theme or cluster) to attract students from the entire school district. Some magnet programs have competitive admission requirements; others are open to any interested student. Students in a magnet program stay together for their core classes and may take other courses with non-magnet students.The following graph shows the number of SLCs using the five major structures:Percentages of SLC Schools Implementing Each Type of SLC Structure (n=105) 47
  48. 48. Figure 2. (Note: Percentages exceed 100 percent within a school year because schools may implementmore than one SLC structure.) Source: Implementation Study of Smaller Learning Communities, PeriodicImplementation Surveys, 2002 and 2003. Percentages based on number of respondents completing surveymodule corresponding to each type of SLC structure.Closing the Achievement Gaps and Smaller Learning Communities Closing the achievement gaps will become even more urgent considering thedemographic swing in race, ethnicity, immigration, and growing projections of low SESK-12 student enrollment. In addition to the demographic shifts and the need for studentswith more advanced 21st century skills, educational leaders must continue to focus ontransformation and innovative strategies to support the diversification of the nation’sschools. The changes in demographics are illustrated in the following chart: 48
  49. 49. Numeric Change in the Projected U.S. Population by Race and Hispanic Origin: 2000 to 2050 (in millions) 156.9 97.2 23.0 17.5 11.6 7.6 Non-Hispanic Non-Hispanic Non-Hispanic Non-Hispanic all Hispanic (any Total White alone Black alone Asian alone other races race)Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2008 National Projections Redesigning high schools by creating SLCs represents a step toward personalizingeducation and establishing the right conditions for improved student achievement andgraduation rates. However, experienced educators recognize that there is no silver bulletfor ensuring student success and that true transformation will be more complex thanpreviously thought. Cotton (2001) points out that, once the notion is dispelled that smallschool size alone is somehow magical, educators, students, parents, and others are bettersituated to appreciate the results that well-conceived and well-operated small schools areproducing (p. 6). As a result, communication regarding the short-term and long-termbenefits of SLCs will be critical to sustaining the redesign and realizing the desired 49
  50. 50. student academic success that will address the low graduation rates. The following chartdepicts the graduation challenges facing Texas educators:Figure 4. Texas Graduation Gap. Numbers were calculated prior to rounding. All graduationrates are for the school year 2005–06. Source: Alliance for Excellence in Education (2009). Addressing the many challenges associated with lower graduation rates forminority and economically disadvantaged students continues to be a major obstacle foreducators. Addressing school size may assist in overcoming one of the major barriers tostudent success. Howley and Bickel (2000) found that: 1. The larger the school, the greater the negative effect of poverty on student achievement. The less affluent the community, the smaller a school should be in order to maximize performance, as measured by standardized tests. 2. The correlation between poverty and low achievement is as much as 10 times stronger in larger schools than in small ones. 50

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