Drafting teacher Darrell Horn helps student Jordy Davis with a hands-on project.
Entering a High Schools That Work school is like entering a small town. You will see banks, stores,
radio stations or greenhouses – all student-run. And you will find computer technicians, mechanics
and landscapers – all of them teenagers. This model strives to connect high school to the real world,
and to show students the relevance of their high school education and the importance of pursuing higher
education when they graduate.
The model is the brainchild of former vocational teacher Gene Bottoms. In the late 1970s and early 1980s,
Bottoms toured the country at the request of the Southern Regional Education Board. He saw that the majority
of high school students, particularly children who fell in the middle 60% of achievers, were not being challenged
academically. In addition, they weren’t prepared for the higher-level workforce that was emerging in the U.S.
So in 1987, the Southern Regional Education Board began implementing the model that Bottoms developed.
It started in a number of high schools in the South, and today it is used in more than 1,000 schools in 31 states.*
To increase student achievement, reduce the number of dropouts and boost graduation rates, High Schools
That Work recommends raising academic standards through more demanding coursework, challenging work-based
learning and strong adult-student relationships. But instead of prescribing specific changes, it’s up to
each high school’s faculty to figure out how to implement the HSTW recommendations. In fact, the director
of High Schools That Work describes the model as the “Home Depot of reform: You can build it. We can help.”
HSTW regularly evaluates schools, makes recommendations and offers professional development.
What you’ll see in a High Schools That Work school:
- A freshman academy: Many HSTW schools put freshmen in a separate part of the building to keep a closer eye on them at this tough transitional time. Freshman teachers also have common planning time where they assess students’ needs and, when necessary, arrange extra help for struggling students.
- School businesses and enterprises: Students learn finance and management by running a school store or bank, agriculture and landscaping by working in a school greenhouse or writing and communications by producing TV and radio shows.
- Hands-on learning: Teachers, particularly in the high schools’ Technology Centers, work with the community to find real-world projects. For example, drafting students may create floor plans for a local business that wants to expand. Students taking computer technology classes can help the school or district’s Information Technology department, dealing with and fixing computer problems.
- Extended School Services (ESS): Teachers hold daily tutoring sessions in classroom-like settings before and after school that are well attended by students. Other make-up programs to keep students on grade level include computer-guided “re-teach classes” for troublesome subjects like ninth grade algebra.
- Close teacher-student relationships: Strongly encouraged by founder Gene Bottoms, relationships between teachers and students are often institutionalized through regular advisee meetings on a daily or weekly basis, through personal mentoring in various hands-on learning programs, and through class-level teachers meetings, such as the freshman teaching council at various high schools.
*As of May 2005. Please note the total number of participating schools and states is subject to change.
High Schools That Work, Southern Regional Education Board
592 10th Street NW, Atlanta GA 30318
Some Research Articles and Evaluations
SREB’s Progress Reports by State
These progress reports are compiled by the Southern Regional Education Board, which oversees High Schools That Work. Each report includes data on the number of participating schools in a state, test scores for those schools over a number of years and whether the schools are meeting HSTW standards. The reports also contain suggestions on areas in which the states need to improve.
“High Schools That Work and Whole School Reform: Raising Academic Achievement of the Vocational Completers through the Reform of School Practice,” (2000), by Phillip Kaufman, Denise Bradby and Peter Teitelbaum, National Center for Research in Vocational Education,
University of California at Berkeley
The researchers looked at the following individual practices or program elements of High Schools That Work: (1) curriculum standards, (2) instructional goals, (3) academic/vocational integration, (4) guidance counseling, (5) teacher practices and (6) work-based learning. They found that the number of students meeting HSTW standards, how students viewed relationships between academic and vocational teachers and time students spent talking to staff about their school program made significant differences in overall student achievement.
“High Schools That Work: Findings from the 1996 and 1998 Assessments,” (2001), by Pamela Frome, Research Triangle Institute, Prepared for Planning and Evaluation Service, U.S. Department of Education
This study looks at High Schools That Work assessment data from 1996 and 1998 and compares student achievement, implementation of HSTW key practices and the relationship between the implementation of the key practices and student achievement. The researchers found that over the two-year period, HSTW schools increased the number of seniors who met HSTW achievement goals in math, science and reading and who completed the HSTW-recommended program of study.
“Finishing the Job: Improving the Achievement of Vocational Students,” (2000), by Gene Bottoms and Alice Presson, Southern Regional Education Board
This report, written by High Schools That Work founder Gene Bottoms, states that considerable gains have been made to increase vocational students’ achievement, but more needs to be done, particularly in reading. The report also looks at what factors raise student achievement and what states can do to improve high schools for students in vocational programs.