NPR logo Series Overview: Rethinking American High Schools

Series Overview: Rethinking American High Schools

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Do you have a high school in your community that is trying something new? Let us know – e-mail NPR's education desk.

Data from the National Assessment on Educational Progress shows that while students are making some gains in reading in fourth grade, 12th graders' proficiency in reading is declining. Lindsay Mangum, NPR hide caption

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Lindsay Mangum, NPR

In the 1950s and 1960s, America went on an educational building boom. Experts thought that big high schools — with their resources concentrated in one place and broader curricula — were the most efficient way to prepare hordes of baby boomers for life in a modern workforce.

But almost as soon as these buildings went up, it became clear that big high schools were too big to give students individualized attention — and in the worst urban areas, too dangerous.

For decades, educators have been trying to remake high schools into smaller, more manageable institutions.

Now, a new effort to reinvent the American high school is sweeping the country.

The focus on achievement has shined a light on the failure of large, industrial-strength American high schools. As measured by test scores, graduation rates and preparedness for college, American high schools are not making the grade.

Research shows that many of the gains achieved in lower grades are lost once a student gets to 12th grade — if a student makes it that far (see graphic). National tests show strong gains among fourth and eighth graders in the last couple of decades in reading and math — gains that do not last through high school.

And many high schools, especially those in urban areas, are facing amazingly high dropout rates.

The reform movement is enjoying a huge influx of money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations that are determined to make high schools relevant again.

Over the coming year, NPR will visit high schools around the country that are trying to break that pattern of failure. Education Correspondent Larry Abramson will drop in on schools big and small that are trying out new ideas.

Do you have a high school in your community that is trying something new? Let us know.