Rethinking High School Education Could Lead to More Effective Learning Experiences, Report Finds

Rethinking the high school experience to engage outside-of-school partners can provide more effective and personalized learning experiences, a new report from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation finds.

Prepared for NMEF's Research and Development initiative by Erikson Institute professor Robert Halpern, the report, It Takes a Whole Society: Opening Up the Learning Landscape in the High School Years (76 pages, PDF), found that most high schools are too narrow in focus, with a common curriculum that is ill-suited for today's diverse youth population. As such, the report recommends that schools shift from a one-size-fits-all approach to student learning toward a diverse set of learning experiences that enables young people to explore a variety of pathways — a process that will require cross-industry collaboration, according to Halpern.

The report argues that learning experiences during the teen years should provide a bridge to the adult world, reflect real tasks with real consequences, contribute to a community of practice, and link personal experience to something larger. Indeed, some schools already advance such aims by incorporating innovative elements such as project-based learning and injecting career and technical education into standard high school experiences.

"We should be focusing on how to provide good learning experiences that are based on what we know about the development of young people," said Halpern. "In high school, young people are learning more about their own strengths, limitations, and qualities, beginning to find their own voice, and beginning to forge personal goals. We need to recognize and support different kinds of learning in high school that allow young people to grapple with a complex, shifting adult world."

"Whole Society Must Share Responsibility for High School Education, New Report Says." Nellie Mae Education Foundation Press Release 02/27/2012.