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Design Principles for Early College High School

Creating an early college high school can help overcome academic barriers for low-income, minority and at-risk students. Joel Vargas, vice president of the High School Through College, a national Jobs for the Future program, and LaVonne Sheffield, associate vice president for Early College Expansion at JFF, believe the program should be expanded across the nation because today's pupils need to have the advanced skills, content knowledge and learning strategies to be successful in a rapidly changing job market.

But the challenge to expanding it is ensuring consistent high-quality implementation and instruction. To address this, the North Carolina New Schools Project (NCNSP), a public-private partnership that works to develop innovative high schools in the state, relies on six key design principles for every early college school.

Ready for college: NCNSP schools are characterized by the pervasive, transparent and consistent understanding that they exist for the purpose of preparing all students for college and work. To overcome the harmful consequences of tracking and sorting, they maintain a common set of high standards.

Powerful teaching and learning: NCNSP schools are characterized by the presence of commonly held standards for high quality instructional practice. Teachers design rigorous instruction that ensures the development of critical thinking, application and problem-solving skills often neglected in traditional settings.

Personalization: Staff in NCNSP schools understand that getting to interact with and knowing students well is an essential condition of helping them achieve academically. These high schools ensure that adults leverage their knowledge of students in order to improve student learning. Redefine professionalism: Evident in NCNSP schools are the collaborative work orientation of staff, the shared responsibility for decision making, and the commitment to growing the capacity of staff and schools throughout the network.

Leadership: Staff in the North Carolina New Schools Projects work to develop a shared mission for their school and work actively as agents of change, sharing leadership for improved student outcomes in a culture of high expectations for every student.

Purposeful design: NCNSP schools are designed to create the conditions that ensure the other five design principles. The organization of time and space and the allocation of resources ensure that these best practices become common practice.

—Angela Pascopella