A project called Schools of Opportunity was launched by two veteran educators last year as a pilot effort to honor high schools that work hard to offer all students a chance to succeed. Unlike other rating and ranking efforts that use student standardized test scores and data points, the Schools of Opportunity project recognizes public high schools that seek to close opportunity gaps through practices “that build on students’ strengths” — not by obsessing on the scores. Seventeen schools were selected, and this blog spotlighted each winner.
Now, the project has gone national for the 2015-16 school year. Applications are welcome from public high schools in each state; you can find out how tos ubmit one at the website, here, and in the post below.
The people behind theproject are Carol Burris and Kevin Welner. Burris is a former New York high school principal who is now executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education Fund. A frequent contributor to The Answer Sheet, she was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York state, and in 2013, the organization named her the New York State High School Principal of the Year. Welner is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education who specializes in educational policy and law. He is director of the National Education Policy Center at UC Boulder, which produces high-quality peer-reviewed research to inform education policy.
In this post, Burris and Welner explain the project and how to enter.
By Kevin Welner and Carol Burris
If you’re an educator at a public high school that closes opportunity gaps, please set aside a couple hours between now and Jan. 20 to nominate your school for recognition as a “School of Opportunity.” The application itself is very straightforward and can be completed online. Any public school anywhere in the United States is eligible if it includes the high school grades and serves at least 10 percent students eligible for free or reduced priced meals.
The Schools of Opportunity project is a way to provide much-deserved recognition to schools, teachers and leaders. It is also a way to illustrate and highlight the use of sensible, research-based approaches that provide rich opportunities to learn. Finally, it’s a way to point policy makers toward an alternative to defining great schools using testing and test-based accountability. It’s a way for us, as a society, to move forward.
A year ago, in the midst of the growing opt-out movement and other strong refutation of test-centric policies, we at the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) launched a pilot of this new “Schools of Opportunity” project. Grounded in high-quality research about closing the opportunity gaps that drive achievement gaps, the project recognized schools in New York and Colorado that used the best research-based practices to create rich learning environments for their students.
We unveiled the Schools of Opportunity project here at The Answer Sheet in the fall of 2014 and received a heartening response — with almost 100 public high schools from the two pilot states, Colorado and New York, completing our application and seeking recognition for their work. In May 2015, after careful evaluation of each applying school, we announced a total of 17 Schools of Opportunity in the two states, with five singled out for Gold-level recognition.
This year, all public high schools in the United States are eligible to apply for recognition. The applications page is on the project website, where you can also read profiles of the schools recognized last year. We will be accepting new applications until Jan. 20.
Existing lists of best high schools undoubtedly identify many high-quality schools. But the approaches underlying these lists inevitably reward schools that are selective or affluent (or both). In contrast, the Schools of Opportunity approach is based on schools that practice principles identified by experts in the 2013 book, “Closing the Opportunity Gap.” The project recognizes schools for creating inputs that help close opportunity gaps, demonstrating an extraordinary commitment to equity and excellence by giving all students the opportunity to succeed. It’s about rewarding schools for doing the right things, even if they do not enroll the nation’s top students. It’s also about highlighting the practices of schools that are energetically closing the opportunity gap by engaging in research-based practices designed to make sure that all students have rich opportunities to succeed.
The identification process highlights practices such as effective student and faculty support systems, outreach to the community, health and psychological support, judicious and fair discipline policies, little or no tracking, and high-quality teacher induction and mentoring programs. Eleven practices in all are identified and set forth on the Schools of Opportunity website. The process is designed to allow applicants to explain how and why their school should be recognized, and the project will provide any assistance needed to help applicants complete and submit their information.
When schools and communities focus resources and efforts on closing the opportunity gaps, they should be recognized, supported and applauded. They should also serve as models for those who wish to engage in true school improvement.
If you are a principal, teacher, student, parent, school board member or community member of a high school in the United States that you think deserves recognition for closing opportunity gaps, please visit the website at opportunitygap.org or email the organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org. These are the stories we need to tell. These are the practices that should be emulated. Let’s change the conversation and engage in true school improvement.
We are thrilled that The Answer Sheet will again announce the winners and spotlight each one. We are also grateful to the Ford Foundation and the NEA Foundation for their continued support.
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