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Meeting Five Critical Challenges of High School Reform: Lessons from Research on Three Reform Models


"This is the first in a series of reports for policymakers, practitioners, and others who must make hard choices about how to change high schools. It discusses three comprehensive initiatives evaluated by MDRC that have grappled with the challenges of improving low-performing urban and rural schools. ... The overall message of this synthesis is that structural changes to improve personalization and instructional improvement are the twin pillars of high school reform. Small learning communities and faculty advisory systems can increase students' feelings of connectedness to their teachers. Especially in interaction with one another, extended class periods, special catch-up courses, high-quality curricula, training on these curricula, and efforts to create professional learning communities can improve student achievement. School-employer partnerships that involve career awareness activities and work internships can help students attain higher earnings after high school. Furthermore, students who enter ninth grade facing substantial academic deficits can make good progress if initiatives single them out for special support. These supports include caring teachers and special courses designed to help entering ninth-graders acquire the content knowledge and learning skills that they missed out on in earlier grades."