The World’s Most Innovative Schools: High Tech High, California

March 2, 2011 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

hallway hung with posters created by students

Student work on display in a hallway in High Tech High (from their website)

by Alec Patton

We’ve written about High Tech High quite a lot within these pages, but we’d be remiss if we left them out of our series on the world’s most innovative schools, so here’s a brief introduction to what they’re all about (full disclosure: High Tech High is an international partner of Learning Futures).

High Tech High (HTH) operates eleven schools: two elementary (5-11), four middle (11-14), and five high schools (14-18). Though they are massively oversubscribed, they are totally non-selective. This works, because applicants are selected by lottery according to student postcode, using an algorithm to ensure that the school populations mirror the demographics of San Diego County. This is a ‘postcode lottery’ that makes things MORE fair, rather than less.

The lottery reflects the school’s overall mission, which is to apply and advocate for  a set of design principles” which aim towards the “deep goal” of “preparing all students for entry into the world of work and citizenship in a democratic society.”

Their design principles are:

1. Personalisation

Every student has a staff advisor who also serves as a contact for the student’s family.

2. Adult World Connection

In their junior year (17-18), HTH students complete a semester-long internship at a local business or agency, while many students’ final-year projects address issues of concern to the local community. This is the culmination of a sustained engagement with the surrounding community, which includes extended projects that go beyond the classroom, and “power lunches” with adults other than teachers to discuss pertinent issues.

3. Common Intellectual Mission

There is no pupil streaming at High Tech High – students who wish to pursue an accelerated curriculum do so by doing more complex and challenging assignments within the same classes as everyone else, while students with learning difficulties are given specialised support within mainstream classes.

HTH also does not differentiate between “technical” and “academic” courses – the curriculum is designed to prepare all students both for university and for the world of work.

4. Teacher as Designer

Teachers work in interdisciplinary teams to develop the program for 50-70 students per team. The schedule accommodates team teaching, common planning time, project-based learning, work-based learning, and other regular interaction with the outside world.

With this set of principles, it is not surprising that what HTH is best known for is their project-based learning. Group projects culminating in public presentation are at the heart of the curriculum, and you can browse an online gallery of students’ work (organised by subject and age-group) here. You can also watch a very funny video on designing project-based learning by HTH teacher Jeff Robin here.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that over 99% of HTH graduates have gone to university.

Further reading:

High Tech High Website

Unboxed- High Tech High’s “journal of adult learning in schools”

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Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services.

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