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College Readiness, Part One: Redefining Rigor at Envision Schools

| Bob Lenz

I have been thinking a lot about Envision Schools's impact recently and what we hope will be different because of our schools.

As an organization, we are driven by our mission to transform the lives of each of our students by preparing them for success in college and in life -- especially those who will be the first in their family to attend and graduate from college. Preparing students for citizenship and success in the twenty-first-century workplace requires that we rethink the outcomes students need to achieve.

Tony Wagner is codirector of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In his recent article "Rigor Redefined," published in Educational Leadership, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development's magazine, makes the claim that "to teach and test the skills that our students need, we must first redefine excellent instruction." This is where the work of Envision Schools began.

Traditionally, the goals of secondary schools in the United States were based on a definition of rigor that assumed courses were hard or challenging because they covered a vast amount of content or prepared students for high-stakes examinations such as Advanced Placement tests. For a long time, the notion has been that if students can take and pass these "difficult" classes, they will be ready for college and a career.

And, in fact, colleges and universities give extra consideration to these courses in the admissions process. However, studies continue to reveal that such admission practices are slowly changing, and it is no longer evident that a student's success in challenging courses or on AP examinations indicates a greater likelihood for success in college or life.

At Envision Schools, we agree with Wagner; we believe we need to rethink academic rigor and to define new twenty-first-century outcomes for students. To accomplish this mission, we needed to design our schools to support this new vision for teaching and learning, because a transformation like this cannot happen in piecemeal fashion. With this in mind, we developed the Envision Schools model based on the principles of rigor, relationships, relevance, and results.

However, merely redefining our outcomes and vision for teaching and learning is not enough. If we are to fundamentally transform our schools so that they truly support our students' learning, all of the schools' systems must change. This includes their framework for leadership, governance, and accountability; the scope and design of professional learning for teachers and faculty; the methods and assessment systems used to evaluate student performance; and the manner in which we evaluate, assess, and provide feedback to teachers on their performance.

Two seemingly disparate inputs have recently influenced my views on the actual and potential impact of our school design and model. The first is a conversation with the Envision Schools board and the second is the article I referenced above. At our recent Envision Schools board retreat, the board asked, "What is Envision Schools's secret sauce? Why do you believe our students will be successful in college and life?" I have been reflecting on how to answer these questions clearly. Wagner's article gave me the framework to do it.

What do you think about this approach? Please share your thoughts, and read part two of this blog entry.

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Antione Johnson (not verified)

21st century education

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Greetings; I am a retired military leader and current high school teacher for students at-risk ( Colorado Springs). There are many issues and reasons why schools are not meeting the various needs of students,and it will take me more than a minute to explain. Speaking from the ground level (no pun intended), I can first began with the internal forces within students. I make it my business to continuoiusly pose this question to my students, "how many of you plan to attend college" and not surprisingly all hands are raised with pride and assurance. Then I respond with gratitude and approval and immediately ask, "how many of you complete all assignments daily, and actively participate in homework nightly" and only 4 out of 26 students can give an honest hand raise. To make this long message short, I would say (from experience) it has to start with parents, caring adults, and teachers to enforce and reenforce the importance of developing a positive work ethic, starting with classwork completion and at least 10 minutes per grade level of homework participation every night including weekends. Participation is defined as learning for the pleasure of learning. And how do we as adults and educators enforce and reenforce this principle, "lead by example" that is DO OUR HOMEWORK! I'll explain late email me if you would like to learn more. God Bless

health online (not verified)

I think that the problem of

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I think that the problem of Educational Leadership is quite acute nowadays, I'd better say that this is not only educational problem but phsycological one... That's so nicethat you've evocated this particular problem among others..

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Bob Lenz Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

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