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9 Summary of Finclings and Recommendations Engaging adolescents cognitively and emotionally in school and aca- demic work is a challenge regardless of the social or economic status of the students or the location of their schools. Adolescents are too old and too independent to follow teachers' demands mindlessly, and many are too young, inexperienced, or uninformed to fully appreciate the value of suc- ceeding in school. Academic motivation decreases steadily from the early grades of elementary school into high school, and disengagement from coursework is common at the high school level. Students living in low-income communities are not alone in being less than enthusiastic about schoolwork. But when students from advantaged backgrounds become disengaged, even though they learn less than they could, they usually get by or they get second chances; most eventually graduate and move on to other opportunities. In contrast, students from disadvantaged backgrounds in environments that provide few quality re- sources for them, such as those in high-poverty, urban high schools, are less ~ ~ 1 ~ ~ likely to graduate and face severely limited opportunities. In addition to having greater burdens and distractions, the consequences of being unengaged or dropping out of school are more serious for youth who do not have the social and other resources available to cushion the effects of academic failure. Their failure to acquire the basic skills needed to function in adult society, whether or not they complete high school, dramatically increases their risks of unemployment, poverty, poor health, and involve- . . . . . ment in t" be criminal justice system. Urban high schools are not all alike, and a few, usually small and 211
212 ENGAGING SCHOOLS selective, have excellent records of equipping their students with the skills needed to succeed in postsecondary education and in the workplace. But taken as a whole, urban high schools fail to meet the needs of too many of their students. In many schools with large concentrations of students living in poverty, it is common for fewer than half the students who enter in ninth grade to leave with a high school diploma. Furthermore, dropping out of school is but the most visible indication of pervasive disengagement from the academic purposes and programs of these schools. Many of the students who do not drop out altogether attend irregularly, exert little or ineffective effort on schoolwork, and learn little. Schools do not control all of the factors that influence students' engage- ment and motivation to learn. Particularly in disadvantaged urban commu- nities, academic engagement and achievement are adversely influenced by the economic and social marginalization of the students' families and com- munities. These disadvantages, however, can be mitigated and in many cases overridden by participation in an engaging school community with high academic standards, skillful instruction, and support to achieve educa- tional and career goals. The evidence reviewed in this volume demonstrates that much has been learned about the conditions in high schools that enhance student engage- ment. The research base is mostly qualitative, correlational, or quasi-ex- perimental, thus falling short of the random-assignment design that permits strong causal conclusions. But the evidence for the recommendations made is consistent enough to give it credibility. A common theme among effective practices is that they have a positive effect on the motivation of individual students because they address under- lying psychological variables such as competence, control, beliefs about the value of education, and a sense of belonging. In brief, effective schools and teachers promote students' understanding of what it takes to learn and confidence in their capacity to succeed in school by providing challenging instruction and support for meeting high standards, and by conveying high expectations for their students' success. They provide choices and they make the curriculum and instruction relevant to adolescents' experiences, cultures, and long-term goals, so that students see some value in what they are doing in school. Finally, they promote a sense of belonging by personal- izing instruction, showing an interest in students' lives, and creating a . . . supportive, caring soc1a" context. This description of engaging schools applies to too few urban high schools in low-income communities. Instead the picture that emerges from both large-scale surveys and case studies is that most comprehensive urban high schools are places where low expectations, alienation, and low achieve- ment prevail. Resources are lacking and services are fragmented. The teach- ers are the least qualified, and the buildings are the most dilapidated. The
S UMMAR Y OF FINDINGS AND RE COMMENDA TIONS 213 curriculum and teaching often are unresponsive to the needs and interests of students especially students of color, English-language learners, or those who entered high school with weak skills in reading and mathematics. Students often do not get to know or to be known by their teachers. As a result, many students experience schools as impersonal and uncaring. Be- cause few urban schools are closely connected to the communities they serve or to the educational and career opportunities potentially available to their students, many students fail to see how working hard in school will enable them to attain the educational and career goals to which they aspire. Improving the quality of urban high schools in the United States is critically important, not only to the futures of the students who attend them, but also for the future prosperity and quality of life of cities and for the nation as a whole. Fortunately, knowledge derived from research and practice provides more than a sufficient basis to proceed with urgently needed reforms. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS The evidence reviewed in this volume leads the committee to the fol- lowing conclusions and recommendations as a means to achieve the goals of meaningful engagement and genuine improvements in achievement in schools serving economically disadvantaged students. Because our delibera- tions have revealed significant limits in the available evidence, the commit- tee also specifies directions for future research. Teaching and Learning Findings and Recommendations The evidence is clear that high school courses can be designed to engage urban high school students and enhance their learning. The instruction typical of most urban high schools nevertheless fails to engage students cognitively, emotionally, or behaviorally. As typically taught in urban high schools, most subject matter appears disconnected and unrelated to stu- dents' lives outside of school. Students spend much of their time passively listening to lectures or doing repetitive, formulaic tasks. Instruction and tasks are commonly very easy or impossibly difficult for many students, and getting right answers is stressed over understanding. Evidence on teaching indicates that instruction that draws on students' preexisting understandings, interests, culture, and real-worId experiences can make the curriculum more meaningful to them. Students are also more motivated when they are actively engaged in problem solving and applying new knowledge to real-worId problems than when traditional textbooks
214 ENGAGING SCHOOLS and worksheets form the core of instruction. Engagement is relatively high when instruction is varied and appropriately challenging for all students and when teachers allow students to use their native language abilities and other resources to master the material and complete tasks. Research also suggests the value of providing explicit guidance to help students under- stand and critically analyze, not just memorize, discipline-based knowI- edge. Recommendation 1: The committee recommends that high school courses and instructional methods be redesigned in ways that will increase adolescent engagement and learning. This recommendation has many im- plications, such as for teacher training and accountability practices (dis- cussed below). The evidence reviewed by the committee suggests also that the following strategies can support efforts to create more engaging high school instruction: · creating schools or small learning communities (clusters or "ma- jors") that have particular academic (e.g., the performing arts, science and math, environmental issues) or occupational (e.g., health occupations, busi- ness, biotechnology) foci that capitalize on students' personal interests and connect to the world outside the school while maintaining high academic standards; · providing service learning and internship opportunities in the com- munity that are directly linked to the academic curriculum; and · implementing block scheduling (classes meeting in blocks of at least 90 minutes) to allow more sustained attention to a topic. Instruction that is appropriately challenging for all students requires considerable knowledge of each student's understanding and skills. Instruc- tional decisions about tasks and next steps also need to be informed by data on student learning. Standardized testing done annually does not provide useful information for these purposes. Recommendation 2: The committee recommends ongoing ciassroom- based assessment of students' understanding and skills. We suggest that teachers monitor continually the effectiveness of curriculum and instruc- tional practices, not only in terms of learning, but also in terms of keeping students engaged behaviorally (e.g., attendance, completion of work), cognitively (e.g., efforts to understand and apply new concepts), and emo- tionally (e.g., enthusiasm for learning activities). Regular assessments that include daily classroom interactions and analyses of student work, prefer- ably with teachers working in groups to assist each other in making judg- ments about the meaning of students' work and its implications for curricu- lum and instruction for those students. Development of these assessments
S UMMAR Y OF FINDINGS AND RE COMMENDA TIONS 215 and of engaging instructional strategies in response to their results, are critically important for engaging instruction and a necessary complement to large-scale standardized tests. :F :F :F Teaching that involves active student learning and problem solving requires considerable teacher knowledge about teaching and adolescent learning as well as a deep understanding of the discipline. Implementing engaging instruction and effective assessment also require recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers and strengthening the repertoire of current teachers who are struggling so that all teachers have a range of available strategies to use with their students and who are skilled at adapting instruc- tion to the needs of individual students. Recommendation 3: The committee recommends that preservice teacher preparation programs provide high school teachers deep content knowledge and a range of pedagogical strategies and understandings about adolescents and how they learn, and that schools and districts provide practicing teachers with opportunities to work with colleagues and to con- tinue to develop their skills. Preservice teacher education programs should provide new teachers with knowledge about student-centered pedagogy that is focused on understanding, and teach them strategies for involving students in active learning. Explicit preparation is also important to prepare new teachers to be effective with diverse, heterogeneous groups of high school students, including English-language learners, students with special disabilities, and students who are substantially behind in their basic skills. Teachers already working in high schools cannot meet the needs of their students if their own needs for professional development and support are not met. District- and state-level administrators need to provide re- sources, experts, and opportunities for teachers to continue to develop their teaching skills and school administrators need to provide time for teachers to collaborate with their colleagues and to take advantage of opportunities for professional development. Suggestions for Research Far more research on teaching and learning has focused on elementary and middle school than on high school. The committee recommends that more research attention be given to subject matter at the secondary level, including how curriculum and instructional practices can achieve the twin goals of meaningful engagement and authentic achievement. Also recom- mended is attention to the needs of high school-aged, English-language learners and students who have poor reading skills. There is a serious need for innovative strategies that help students gain access to subject matter
216 ENGAGING SCHOOLS while they improve English proficiency. Research is also needled to clevelop and assess strategies for teaching reacting skills to adolescents who reach high school reacting at the elementary school level, and for embecicling . . . .,. . . . . c escape ~ne-spec~c reac sing Instruction In regu" ar courses. When achievement outcomes are examined in future research, the achievement measures need to be aligned to instructional goals. Too often, studies use generic measures of achievement that clo not provide a fair assessment of the instructional program or an accurate assessment of stu- clent learning, especially for English-language learners. Finally, the committee recommencis studies that examine the conditions uncler which effective, engaging teaching occurs inclucling the effects of different strategies for teacher clevelopment and collaboration and state and district requirements related to assessment, curriculum, and curriculum materials. Standards and Accountability Findings and Recommendations Stanciarcis and high expectations are critical, but they must be genu- inely achievable if they are to motivate student engagement. Students are most likely to be academically engaged when they are challenged with clemancling learning goals and when they have opportunities to experience a sense of competence and accomplishment about their learning. Setting high stanciarcis and hoicling students accountable for reaching them can serve as an incentive to exert effort, but only if students believe they can succeed. Simply asking students especially those at the bottom of the achievement distribution to achieve higher stanciarcis without providing the assistance and support they need is more likely to discourage than to motivate them. Recommendation 4: The committee recommends that schools provide the support and resources necessary to help all high school students to meet challenging standards. Thus, for example, we urge districts and school administrators to provide summer programs and tutoring when feasible to help students who have fallen behind to progress in their skills. While students work toward meeting the high stanciarcis ultimately required, teach- ers need to give students more immediate and proximal incliviclualizeci goals, calibrated to students' preexisting knowledge and skills. :F :F :F The tests that are used for accountability have substantial impact on curriculum and instruction. It is unrealistic to expect teachers to exert effort to provide a coherent and integrated curriculum and focus on unclerstanci-
S UMMAR Y OF FINDINGS AND RE COMMENDA TIONS 217 ing and critical thinking and writing if the tools used to evaluate them and their students measure fragmented, decontextualized, basic skills. Recommendation 5: The committee recommends that tests used to evaluate schools, teachers, and students assess high-level, critical thinking and that they incorporate a broad and multidimensional conception of subject matter that includes fluency, conceptual understanding, analysis, and application. The committee recognizes the difficulty of creating and the cost of implementing such tests, but the nature of high-stakes tests affect the nature of curriculum and instruction, and thus the level of student engage- ment. The kind of instructional program that engages youth must, there- fore, be reflected in high-stakes tests. We also recommend that whenever stakes are attached to test results, policy makers monitor both intended and unintended consequences, including their effects on student engagement. Suggestions for Research Research that examines the nuanced ways in which high expectations and standards are conveyed to students is needed. For example, what kinds of school policies and classroom practices make students fee! that they are expected to learn and that they are being held accountable for their learn- ing? How do parents convey high expectations for their adolescents with- out undermining their sense of autonomy and control? There is also a critical need for research on the effects of accountability policies, including high-stakes testing, on student engagement in high school, with special attention to unintended consequences, such as dropping out. Research on students' perceptions of the standards and their ability to meet them would be valuable. Studies should also examine how the effects of testing on student engagement are moderated by the supports (individual- ized instruction, tutoring) available to students to help them succeed on the test. The committee also recommends research on the effects of high-stakes testing on teaching and on parents' perceptions of their adolescents' future educational opportunities. Does the existence of the test, for example, pro- mote teaching that focuses entirely on answering test items, without consid- eration for deep understanding of the subject, and does it prompt some parents to give up their hope of their child graduating from high school? Or does it engender stronger commitment in teachers and parents to support student learning? Creating High School Communities Conducive to Learning Supportive personal relationships are a critical factor in promoting and maintaining student engagement. Motivation to learn depends on the
218 ENGAGING SCHOOLS student's involvement in a web of social relationships that support learning. Most urban high schools are too large and fail to promote close personal relationships and a sense of community between adults and students. As much as possible, high schools should be structured to promote supportive personal relationships among the members of its community; the commit- tee offers several recommendations toward this end. Recommendation 6: Districts should restructure comprehensive urban high schools to create smaller learning communities that foster personalized and continuous relationships between teachers and students. Restructuring should focus on allowing teachers to see fewer students and students to see fewer teachers than is currently typical in urban high schools. Restructuring can be achieved by starting new schools, by breaking up large schools into new and completely autonomous schools, or by creating smaller connected but somewhat autonomous units in large schools. Block scheduling and looping (teachers staying with the same group of students for multiple years) are promising strategies for promoting deeper and more continuous relationships. Creating small learning communities may be necessary, but it is not sufficient to improve student engagement. The social climate of the school, in addition to the quality of instruction, are critical variables. Principals and teachers need to make concerted efforts to promote an environment of trust and respect of each other and of students. They need to mode! these behaviors and refuse to tolerate disrespectful behavior against peers or adults. A school climate of trust, caring and discipline requires policies that teach students appropriate ways of responding to perceptions of risk or threat. The conditions under which refusals to tolerate disrespectful behavior take place should provide learning opportunities for students and teachers. Also critical to promoting meaningful student engagement is a social context centered on learning in which all administrative decisions are made with their effects on student learning in mind and teachers leverage their closer relationships with students to "press" students to challenge themselves and develop deep understanding. This focus can be conveyed through school policies such as recognizing students who step up to aca- demic challenges and intervening quickly and preemptively when problems of poor attendance, failure to complete homework, and poor performance arise. :F :F :F Currently, students who are most at risk of disengaging from school have too little contact with peers who have strong commitments to educa- tion and high expectations for success. Groups of students with similar achievement levels are frequently tracked, formally or informally, into dif- ferent courses, thus isolating relatively low-performing and disengaged stu-
S UMMAR Y OF FINDINGS AND RE COMMENDA TIONS 219 dents. In addition to preventing poorly engaged students from interacting with high-achieving peers, tracking makes inaccessible to students in the lower academic tracks a rigorous curriculum that prepares them for postsecondary education. Tracked courses, especially at the low achieve- ment levels, can also reinforce lower standards and engender in students the belief that they lack academic competence. Recommendation 7: The committee recommends that both formal and informal tracking by ability be eliminated. Alternative strategies should be used to ensure appropriately challenging instruction for students who vary widely in their skill levels. Classes that do not prepare but prevent students getting on to rigorous grade-level work should be eliminated, and challeng- ing courses, including Advanced Placement courses, should be as available to students in urban schools serving low-income students as they are in schools serving more affluent students. A more challenging curriculum with heterogeneous grouping can be successful only if teachers are well trained to address individual student needs. Preservice teacher preparation programs and district and school administrators need to give teachers support in developing instructional approaches that meet the needs of a class of students who vary dramatically in their skill levels. We suggest, in particular, training in individualized and peer group learning strategies that have been shown to be effective in promoting learning in a heterogeneous class. Another strategy, used previ- ously only at the college level but which merits experimentation in high schools, is connecting tutoring and small-group learning with a reading or English-as-a-second-language specialist directly to substantive courses. Thus, rather than isolating students with special needs, the additional assis- tance that some students need is provided in the context of a regular course with more skilled peers. The committee also recommends that school administrators create op- portunities for low-achieving students to interact with and develop friend- ships with more academically successful peers and promote a climate in which students fee! comfortable venturing beyond familiar peer and in- structional contexts. Because adolescents tend to choose to interact with students of similar achievement levels, concerted efforts must be made to create activities that will attract diverse students and make all students fee! welcome and comfortable. :F :F :F Serious social or psychological problems can interfere with adolescents' own academic engagement as well as undermine a positive learning climate. Currently many problems are unnoticed or untreated. Professionals who have relevant expertise are responsible for far too many students and they have too little time to provide the support and intervention students need.
220 ENGAGING SCHOOLS The problem is especially serious in urban high schools serving low-income youth, where there are limited resources to address students' social and psychological problems. A climate of learning is also undermined by students' lack of under- standing of the consequences of disengagement from school. Many urban high school students are poorly informed about postsecondary educational and career options. In particular, they have only a vague understanding of what they need to learn during high school to have a realistic chance of achieving the ambitious educational and career goals to which many aspire. Because they don't see the connections, students are not motivated to en- gage in purposeful and challenging academic activities. In most schools, helping students make these connections is the responsibility of guidance counselors who oversee large numbers of students and have little opportu- nity to know their needs. Recommendation 8: The committee recommends that school guidance and counseling responsibilities be diffused among school staff, including teachers, who are supported by professionals. A promising strategy is to provide every student and family with a member of the school staff who can act as an adult advocate and who has an expert to consult and to whom students or families with serious problems can be referred. To help students achieve a realistic understanding of how their high school learning experi- ences and mastery of learning objectives are related to their educational and career options after high school, we suggest also providing students with experiences in work settings, teachers with curriculum materials and in- structional supports to integrate rigor and relevance into the core curricu- lum, as well as close coordination with postsecondary educational institu- tions. Suggested Research The committee recommends research to identify the conditions under which more respectful and mutually accountable relationships that focus on learning can be infused into a school community. What, for example, do principals do in schools that have achieved this climate? What kinds of opportunities do teachers have to connect with each other, and how are parents involved? How is teaching organized and how are classes scheduled in schools that have been successful in creating a socially supportive climate focused on students' learning? The committee also recommends research that examines different approaches to financing schools that will allow lower student-teacher ratios, such as by reducing staff at the district level and increasing the amount of funding that goes directly to schools. Studies should attempt to assess independently the effects of small size, alone, and the conditions (personal relationships, individualized instruc-
S UMMAR Y OF FINDINGS AND RE COMMENDA TIONS 221 tion, close monitoring of student progress and efforts to address nonaca- demic needs) that small size may facilitate. Careful documentation of effec- tive strategies for transitioning large high schools into small learning com- munities is also needed, along with more rigorous studies on the effects of school size that include appropriate control groups. The development and assessment of alternatives to tracking are seri- ously needed. Heterogeneous grouping poses enormous challenges to teach- ers, and they need guidance regarding effective strategies for meeting the needs of students with a wide range of skill levels. Studies of innovative strategies for providing tutoring, small-group learning, and other supports to enable students who have low skills to succeed in regular classes would be extremely useful. Little research on peer influence has included adolescents in high-pov- erty communities. Future research needs to look carefully at gender, social class, and ethnic differences, and it needs to assess the effects that contex- tual variables (e.g., whether norms of respect and support for cultural and other differences are present) have on the ways in which peers interact, form friendships, and influence each other's values and behavior. The com- mittee also recommends studies of the effects of district policies related to school choice on the dispersion or concentration of economically disadvan- taged students. Finally, research is needed on alternative models for meeting students' guidance and counseling needs and, more generally, on curricular reform designed to provide students with a better understanding of the relationship between learning in high school and postsecondary futures. Connecting Schools with Other Resources High schools cannot, by themselves, achieve the high levels of engage- ment and standards for learning currently asked of them. Most urban high schools function quite independently of the other adults in adolescents' lives, such as parents, health care providers, and those involved in extracur- ricular or religious activities. Many efforts to improve schools are too "school-centric" in the sense that they focus exclusively on school resources and programs and fail to take advantage of the resources in the larger community. Recommendation 9: The Committee recommends that efforts be made to improve communication, coordination, and trust among the adults in the various settings where adolescents spend their time. These settings include homes, religious institutions, and organized extracurricular activities spon- sored by schools and community groups. School administrators and teachers should also expand and enrich the high school curriculum and help students see the real-worId meaningfulness
222 ENGAGING SCHOOLS of school learning by taking advantage of resources in the community. For example, artists, civic leaders, and community members and parents with cultural or historical knowledge and experiences can be invited to schools to share their knowledge and interact with students. They should also provide students with opportunities to engage in service learning and in- ternships that take them into community contexts. :F :F :F The committee also finds that most urban schools are unable to deal with the many problems (e.g., poor physical and mental health, instability in parenting, substance abuse, homelessness) that some low-income adoles- cents face and that interfere with their engagement in academic work. Schools cannot be expected to compensate fully for problems associated with economic and social inequalities and the lack of effective policies to address them. However, such problems cannot be ignored by schools in urban communities with high concentrations of poverty. Although person- alized, supportive high school communities can help protect adolescents from environments that place them at risk for negative academic outcomes, additional specialized services are needed by some high school students. Policy makers can do more to help students whose personal circumstances interfere with their ability to learn, and school administrators can make better use of the resources that are available. Recommendation 10: The committee recommends that schools make greater efforts to identify and coordinate with social and health services in the community, and that policy makers revise policies to facilitate students' access to the services they need. School administrators often encounter barriers to partnerships and collaborations with community service provid- ers. Federal, state, and local policy makers should revise policies so that they facilitate greater coordination. Administrators in social service and health agencies and schools should seek ways to improve communication among school personnel and service providers who see the same adoles- cents. Suggested Research The committee recommends research designed to identify the barriers to communication and coordination among the various settings in which adolescents spend their time, and effective strategies for breaking down those barriers. Research is also needed on effective strategies for involving parents productively in high schools, especially in urban contexts in which there are cultural and language differences between parents and school personnel, and other factors, such as neighborhood safety issues and work schedules,
S UMMAR Y OF FINDINGS AND RE COMMENDA TIONS 223 that can impede meaningful connections. Models for connecting schools and community organizations also need to be developed and evaluated. The development and assessment of technological tools for improving commu- nication among the various organizations adolescents frequent would be useful. Continued research is needed to identify essential resources and the principles underlying the effective mobilization and organization of services that address the multiple, interrelated, nonacademic needs of economically disadvantaged adolescents. Studies that examine ways to translate students' circumstances or problems into needs for specific supports that schools can provide or broker also would be useful. The committee also recommends the development and evaluation of strategies for providing teachers with the support they need to identify students' nonacademic needs and respond to them in a manner that does not detract from the central educational purposes of their task. CHALLENGES OF IMPLEMENTATION Although a few schools and districts have made substantial progress toward improving urban students' engagement and learning, most efforts show modest progress at best, and none has been successful on a large scale. Strategies for getting new and effective instructional practices in place at one setting are not easily transported to another (e.g., from elementary to high schools). Guidance for implementing effective curriculum and instruc- tional approaches needs to be specific enough to give direction, but flexible enough to be adapted to local contexts. Guidance for implementation and examples of alternative approaches for adapting the recommended prac- tices to a particular school or district are a critical part of any school reform model. Although much is known about how certain environmental conditions and educational practices affect student engagement, documentation of strategies for change and the contextual factors that either inhibit or facili- tate productive reforms is rare. There is still much more to learn about the necessary and sufficient conditions for reform as they exist in various com- munities with different sets of opportunities, resources, and challenges. More research is needed on the process of school reform: what schools need to do to implement the knowledge gained from research on effective poli- . . cles ant practices. The urgency of reform must not lead us to seize upon quick fixes or silver bullets. The research reviewed in this volume illustrates repeatedly that student engagement and learning are directly affected by a confluence of instructional practices in particular schools, by family and community influences, and by a wide range of national, state, and local policies. No
224 ENGAGING SCHOOLS single educational policy or practice, no matter how well grounded in research, can be expected to increase students' academic engagement if the policies and practices in which they are embedded are ignored. For ex- ample, small, personalized schools may not enhance meaningful cognitive engagement and learning if there is not a strong press for achieving high academic standards and effective teaching; the most engaging teaching prac- tices may have little effect on a student who is homeless, has serious un- treated health problems, or faces the chronic threat of violence. Allowing students to choose among different small, thematic learning communities can recreate tracking based on social class, ethnicity, and achievement lev- els if policies and special efforts are not taken to prevent this from occur- ring. Furthermore, teachers cannot be expected to provide meaningful and engaging instruction if they do not have deep knowledge of their subject matter. As this volume has demonstrated, student engagement and learning are affected by a complicated set of nested variables. Some factors affect the motivation of individual students in specific classrooms of specific high schools, while others stem from broad policies at the federal or state level that may affect a large number of very diverse high schools that fall under its jurisdiction. The array of policies and practices that affect student moti- vation and learning must be aligned so that efforts in one domain (e.g., the classroom) are supported rather than undermined by policies at another (e.g., broader educational and social policies). Although it is neither neces- sary nor realistic to expect that all potential conflicts be resolved before students can engage productively in learning, educators and policy makers should, at the very least, consider how their policies and practices interact to affect student engagement and learning. Although the promise of comprehensive school reform models is still unknown, the committee believes there is value in an approach to school change that involves consideration of many aspects of district and school policies and practices including financing, community involvement, school organization, leadership, teacher professional development, curriculum, accountability, and assessment. Whether school improvements are based on existing reform models, or designed locally, a systemic approach is most likely key to their success. A fundamental transformation of American high schools and the policy contexts in which high school education is embedded is needed to engage all students in learning and to ensure high standards of achievement. There are no panaceas, and some of the simple solutions that have been proposed, such as raising standards, can alone do more harm than good. Realistically, the reforms that are needed will require greater resources than are currently provided. At the very least, the inequities in resource allocation, with schools
S UMMAR Y OF FINDINGS AND RE COMMENDA TIONS 225 serving students with the greatest needs having the fewest resources, will need to be redressed. The consequences of inaction are severe for the society and for youth in our urban schools. Ascribing fault and complaining about the larger social-economic and cultural context, government and social institutions, fair or not, will not address the serious challenges we face in giving the nation's youth a realistic chance to succeed in school and in life. High schools cannot redress all of the problems and inequities of our society. But schools can do better, and a fair amount is known about what they need to do to engage students cognitively and emotionally in learning. For most urban high schools, improvement requires a fundamental rethink- ing of how they go about their work. Piecemeal reforms will not work. Alone, none of the recommendations made in this volume will have much impact. Real progress will be made only if the pieces fit together, so that policies and practices at one level reinforce policies and practices at other levels. As a society, we should not fail our youth by failing to hold them, and ourselves, to high expectations. There is more to learn, but, as this volume demonstrates, much is already known about what can be done to increase the engagement of high school students. What is needed now is the will to expect and support the application of this knowledge where it is most needed in our urban high schools.