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Department of Ed announces new school competition

In yet another move to try and spur education reform, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week $300 million in potential competitive grants that would allow schools to redesign teaching, learning, and traditional seat time.

During his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama announced “a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.”

Last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced exactly how ED will reward schools for their reforms.

(Next page: 8 suggestions for redesign)

According to the Education Department (ED), the High School Redesign Initiative will encourage America’s school districts and their partners to use existing federal, state, and local resources to “transform the high school experience…this effort will challenge high schools and their partners to rethink teaching and learning and put in place learning models that are rigorous, relevant, and better focused on real-world experiences.”

The reform should incorporate personalized learning and career and college exploration and ensure that all students graduate with college-level coursework or college credit, as well as with career-related experiences of competencies.

ED is hoping that redesigned high schools will also move away from the “traditional notion of seat time and focus instead on the knowledge and skills needed to successfully transition from high school to college and careers.”

The Initiative presents eight challenges to schools:

1. Redesign academic content and instructional practices to align with postsecondary education and careers and to foster deep understanding and mastery, with student-centered learning in a culture of high expectations.

2. Personalize learning opportunities to support the educational needs and interests of individual students, optimize the pace of learning, and customize content and practices for students to master challenging academic content and pursue their interests.

3. Provide academic and wrap-around support services for those students who need them, such as tutoring, mentoring, and comprehensive supports, so that all learners—including low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities—can successfully graduate and transition smoothly into postsecondary learning and adulthood.

4. Provide high-quality career and college exploration and counseling for students on postsecondary educational options, including education and training requirements for careers, college success skills, and financial aid options available for postsecondary education and training.

5. Offer opportunities to earn postsecondary credit while still in high school through college-level coursework, such as dual enrollment, advanced placement courses, or other postsecondary learning opportunities.

6. Provide career-related experiences or competencies such as organized internships or mentorships; project- or problem-based learning; real-world challenges developed in consultation with employers or service organizations; and structured work-based learning opportunities.

7. Strategically use learning time in more meaningful ways, which could include effective application of technology, redesigning school calendars, and competency-based progression.

8. Provide evidence-based professional development to deepen educators’ skills, support collaboration and expand a comprehensive system of student support.

The High School Redesign initiative would also support competitive grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) in partnership with institutions of higher education and other entities, such as non-profits, community-based organizations, government agencies, and business or industry-related organizations to help schools apply academic concepts to real world challenges.

Special consideration will be given to partnerships with employers that provide students at participating schools with career-related experiences or help students attain career-related credentials.

The High School Redesign plan is included in the administration’s 2014 budget. It is unclear, though, whether Congress would fund such an initiative, especially in such a tight fiscal climate.

For more information, including current examples of redesigned schools ED approves of, visit

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