A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

School Reform and Student Diversity - September 1995

H. Case Study Summaries

7. Horace Mann Academic Middle School

Horace Mann's curriculum and instructional strategies, program for LEP students, and schoolwide features were thoughtfully developed to embrace the cultural and linguistic diversity of its student population. The development of the instructional program and organizational structure had been underway for ten years, since the school had been shut down for chronic low performance by a court-ordered consent decree. The consent decree led to a "reconstitution" of the school which included hiring a new principal who was able to hand-pick faculty committed to high expectations for all students and willing to be held accountable for student learning. The consent decree also led to a district-wide open enrollment policy aimed at desegregating schools by limiting the enrollment of students from any one ethnic group. A subsequent principal led the school's restructuring effort, the fruits of which are described below.

Innovative Curriculum and Instructional Strategies

Horace Mann teachers developed pedagogical strategies based on the premise that all students learn best if they are actively engaged in work that is meaningful to them. Most of the strategies were implemented across subject areas, but the focus here is on their application to math and science learning.

To provide a learning environment in which active and meaningful learning could take place, Horace Mann teachers developed curriculum in which elements of traditional content areas (mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts) were integrated into thematic units based on topics relevant to the students' lives. Student work often took the form of cooperative projects. For example, in one activity heterogeneous groups of students worked on projects requiring them to apply principles of natural science and mathematics to meaningful social issues. The application of core academic subjects to real-life problems engaged students in learning that was not decontextualized from their experiences; this experience-based curriculum validated the students as individuals, and as members of the community. The use of project-based learning as a pedagogical tool allowed students to do in-depth, sustained work which fostered a deeper understanding of sophisticated concepts, required problem-solving and critical thinking, and contributed to oral and written language development. Projects were also conducive to hands-on, activity-oriented learning and to learning in and from groups. Heterogeneous student groupings, which were typical at Horace Mann, let all students share their unique strengths, interests, and experiences, while learning to work cooperatively with their peers.

Horace Mann at a Glance

Location--San Francisco, CA
Grade Levels--6-8
Number of Students--650
% LEP Students--24%
LEP Student Language Diversity--63% Spanish, 23% Cantonese, 7% Other Chinese
LEP Student Programs--Spanish Bilingual, Chinese Transitional Bilingual
% Eligible for Free Lunch--15%

The implementation of these innovative pedagogical strategies was reinforced by an assessment system based on the premise that meaningful assessment of student progress and achievement is integral to their education. Teachers used assessment tools that measure students' ability to construct and apply knowledge, not just reproduce it. Faculty were also beginning assess and evaluate their own teaching through a process of review and reflection aimed at identifying what works and what does not in their curriculum and instruction. The result of their effort was twofold: first, it encouraged teachers to act as thoughtful researchers and as part of an active community of learners. Second, it effected a dynamic curriculum that was continually being refined and perfected.

The use of powerful curricular and instructional strategies at Horace Mann was made possible by the design of the program for limited English proficient (LEP) students and the overall school structure, as explained below.

Program for LEP Students

The LEP student program at Horace Mann was intricately connected to the school's organizational structure. All Horace Mann students were placed in one of six "families," two at each grade level, of approximately 100 students and four core teachers each. Students took all of their core classes (language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics) and some of their electives with the family; other electives and PE were offered outside of the family structure. All families were composed of heterogeneous student populations ranging from "gifted" to "resource"; there was no student tracking at Horace Mann. The family structure allowed teachers to develop close relationships with students and it gave the students a sense of belonging to a group. It particularly benefited LEP students because teachers had a deeper understanding of their language development.

Within the family, the students were clustered into "strands" of approximately 25 students with whom they typically took their core-content courses. Spanish-speaking LEP students were served within the family structure via Spanish bilingual strands. Non-Spanish-speaking LEP students were also clustered in strands; they were taught in English by teachers trained in second language acquisition. While newcomer Spanish-speaking students were placed directly in the Spanish bilingual program, newcomer Chinese LEP students were served in a self-contained class that was outside of the family structure. All programs for LEP students were supported by bilingual and Language Development Specialist-credentialed teachers and aides.

The Spanish bilingual program promoted English language development and Spanish language maintenance for LEP and bilingual students; the goal was biliteracy for all students. Students enrolled in the bilingual program received half of their core course instruction (science and social studies) in Spanish, half in English (language arts and mathematics). The program served newcomers, LEP students, bilingual students whose parents wanted them to maintain Spanish, and English-dominant students who had proficiency in Spanish because they had attended a nearby Spanish-English developmental bilingual elementary school.

The program for Chinese LEP students employed a transitional approach. Only newcomer Chinese LEP students with very little English fluency received primary language instruction, and maintenance of literacy in Cantonese and Mandarin was not supported. Newcomers entered a small, self-contained class in which they received instruction in either Cantonese or Mandarin and English. After one to two years in the self-contained class, students were partially and then fully moved into a family via the strands designated for non-Spanish-speaking LEP students. Teachers in these strands were trained in and experienced with the language acquisition process; their students were English-only, bilingual, and LEP. Primary language support was available from Cantonese-speaking aides.

School Structure

Horace Mann used a block schedule; students had two academic blocks each day and each academic class met every other day. The blocks gave students time to carry out in-depth research and project-based work without interruption. Each family also offered an after-school program for students in need of extra help. The daily schedule provided built-in time every day for teachers to collaborate as they integrated curriculum across subject areas and planned projects and interdisciplinary units. For example, as part of Horace Mann faculty's commitment to mold an environment in which diversity is celebrated, each school year started out with a month-long interdisciplinary unit that focused on developing students' respect for diversity. This time was often also used to discuss issues with individual students.

Site-based management at Horace Mann was the task of faculty committees and community advisory bodies. The faculty Curriculum and Staff Development Committee made decisions about spending grant money and staff development offerings. Horace Mann staff had been entrepreneurial, seeking out supplemental funds and in-kind support. Two of the most prominent examples of their entrepreneurialism include their state-supported restructuring grant and their involvement with Project 2061--a national effort aimed at reforming science education. Both of these programs led to considerable professional development for Horace Mann faculty. Professional development activities supported by the restructuring grant and Project 2061, among other grants and partnerships, focused on bicultural awareness, writing across the curriculum, math across the curriculum, language acquisition, and alternative assessment.


Horace Mann developed an LEP student program which was integrally tied to the structure of the school as a whole. Within each schoolwide family, LEP students received the individual attention they needed by being grouped in special bilingual or language development "strands," where they benefited from the expertise of teachers who were uniquely qualified to work with them. They also benefited from the schoolwide block schedule and thematic, interdisciplinary approach to instruction. Finally, the LEP student program was supported by Horace Mann's staunch commitment to value and celebrate diversity in all aspects of school life.
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