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Journal Issue: America's High Schools Volume 19 Number 1 Spring 2009

Improving Low-Performing High Schools: Searching for Evidence of Promise
Steve Fleischman Jessica Heppen

Summary

Noting that many of the nation's high schools are beset with major problems, such as low student reading and math achievement, high dropout rates, and an inadequate supply of effective teachers, Steve Fleischman and Jessica Heppen survey a range of strategies that educators have used to improve low-performing high schools.

The authors begin by showing how the standards-based school reform movement, together with the No Child Left Behind Act requirement that underperforming schools adopt reforms supported by scientifically based research, spurred policy makers, educators, and researchers to create and implement a variety of approaches to attain improvement.

Fleischman and Heppen then review a number of widely adopted reform models that aim to change "business as usual" in low-performing high schools. The models include comprehensive school reform programs, dual enrollment and early college high schools, smaller learning communities, specialty (for example, career) academies, charter high schools, and education management organizations. In practice, say the authors, many of these improvement efforts overlap, defying neat distinctions. Often, reforms are combined to reinforce one another.

The authors explain the theories that drive the reforms, review evidence of their reforms' effectiveness to date, and suggest what it will take to make them work well. Although the reforms are promising, the authors say, few as yet have solid evidence of systematic or sustained success.

In concluding, Fleischman and Heppen emphasize that the reasons for a high school's poor performance are so complex that no one reform model or approach, no matter how powerful, can turn around low-performing schools. They also stress the need for educators to implement each reform program with fidelity to its requirements and to support it for the time required for success. Looking to the future, the authors suggest steps that decision makers, researchers, and sponsors of research can take to promote evidence-based progress in education.