Innovations in Education: Successful Magnet High Schools
September 2008
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Building a Culture of High-quality Teaching

A rigorous curriculum infused with innovative learning opportunities developed by outstanding teaching helps make these schools exceptional. Their leaders, recognizing the critical role of outstanding teachers, attract, hire, and retain educators with the ability to inspire, hold high expectations for students, share subject matter expertise, and provide support for outstanding academic achievement. As professionals, the teachers have the autonomy and collegial support to be creative and collaborative, resulting in a dynamic learning environment for their students.

These schools have teachers who connect classroom learning to real-world situations and experiences. At MLC, teachers highlight the links between what their students learn and the desired outcomes of a global education, the school's magnet theme. Teachers use a map (see fig. 10 on p. 24) to help students reflect upon and connect their own values, abilities, and knowledge. These are represented adjacent to specific knowledge areas (global history, human culture and values, etc.) that students need to develop to become global citizens. Together, they nurture and connect to the global perspectives identified on the map's circumference.

The innovative nature of these magnet high schools appeals to teachers and may make it easier for principals to recruit outstanding staff. Former Superintendent of Hamilton County, Jesse Register, explained that when starting CSAS, over 100 educators applied for the 20 openings, reflecting teachers' overall excitement to experiment with methods of teaching emphasized in the Paideia model. When hiring DASH staff, principal Stacey Mancuso notes, "All of our program teachers are from industry. They are not education majors. The industrial design teacher designed the sunglasses on her head. The architecture teacher is still a registered architect. Florida gives teachers three years to complete their credentials. Tom Pike, the film instructor, did his online in six months." A top-quality teaching staff makes an enormous difference for advancing student learning.20 The result is a high-caliber program for all students.

To infuse high-quality teaching with cutting-edge practices, these schools engage in a model of continuous improvement through ongoing professional development. At NEM, teachers formed Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to encourage faculty collaboration. Weekly staff development meetings focus on such topics as using student performance data to improve instruction, cultural proficiency, differentiated instruction, and best practices for improving reading comprehension. Every Wednesday, teachers have a 40-minute block of time that is used to examine student data by grade level and by department. Each PLC group devotes a series of sessions to focus on student learning, effective instruction, and student data analysis. As part of their professional development, teachers learn to use interim assessments to inform their teaching and instruction. The science department, for example (see fig. 11 on p. 25), discussed how material is actually learned and strategized ways to support students further to demonstrate mastery of concepts they missed in the first round of assessments. The school data leader compiles the data and then works with teachers in PLC teams to understand it.

Figure 10. Mapping Connections for MLC Students Between Learning and the Real World*


How does what I am learning help me to understand these global systems?
Circular image with five phrases on the outer ring (State of the Planet Awareness, Cross-Cultural Awareness, Knowledge of Global Dynamics, Awareness of Human Choices, Perspectives Consciousness) and four labeled triangles in the middle. Each triangle has an explanatory phrase between it and the outer ring. The triangle labeled Global History has description Beliefs; Cultural origins; Systems evolution; Origins of problems. The triangle labeled Global Problems and Issues has the description Peace & Security; Development; Environment; Human rights. The triangle labeled Global Systems has the description Economic; Political; Ecological; Technological. The triangle labeled Human Cultures and Values has the description Diverse cultures and values; Commonality of humanness.

* The map links the core knowledge areas in the triangles to the global perspective on the outer ring.

Source: Metropolitan Learning Center. Used with permission.

The U.S. Department of Education does not mandate or prescribe particular curricula or lesson plans. The information in the figure to the right was provided by the identified site or program and is included here as an illustration of only one of many resources that educators may find helpful and use at their option. The Department cannot ensure its accuracy. Furthermore, the inclusion of information in this figure does not reflect the relevance, timeliness, or completeness of this information; nor is it intended to endorse any views, approaches, products, or services mentioned in the figure.

Figure 11. Northeast Magnet High School (Wichita, Kans.) Science Professional Learning Community Notes From Weekly Meeting (Excerpt)

By bringing teachers together to work collaboratively, faculty members say they feel less isolated and compartmentalized by department; instead, they can share strategies for working with students and help each other to prepare curriculum activities and assessments.

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Last Modified: 11/19/2009