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VIDEO: Deeper Learning at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco

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September 19, 2011 06:21 pm

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The world has become a complicated place. We hear this refrain in almost every aspect of American life. For U.S. students, it is heard loud and clear in the hallways and classrooms of the American high school. Preparing students for college and career has never been more important or more challenging. But even if we can get the public to understand and accept why college and career readiness is so important, what is the answer to “how?” In this era of ever-tightening state budgets, how can schools and districts possibly educate all students to a higher level of rigor and readiness?

It is helpful that a national consensus has emerged among state education leaders about what students need to know and do in order to be truly “ready” for the challenges they may face in college, career and life. The answer is not new and not terribly complicated. It is the same thing effective educators have always provided to their students: rich core content delivered in innovative ways that take advantage of new technologies and allow students to learn and then apply what they have learned in challenging and relevant ways. The goal being a deeper learning experience that prepares students to:

•    know and master core academic content;
•    think critically and solve complex problems;
•    work collaboratively;
•    communicate effectively;
•    and be self-directed and able to incorporate feedback.

While many of the nation’s high schools are doing a dismal job of preparing students for college and career, there are reasons to be hopeful. The innovative schools that are part of a “community of practice” around this kind of “deeper learning” are unique in their approach but unified in their efforts to produce students who are truly ready for college and career.

The school featured in the video to the left, City Arts and Technology (or CAT as it is known), is part of a small network of schools called Envision Schools. Envision is a charter management company based in Oakland that operates four college prep public charter schools. In total, these four high schools serve 1,300 students. CAT opened in 2004 and is a thriving hub of project –based learning, rigorous standards, student and teacher collaboration, and community engagement.  The building is literally humming with activity. The student population is 60 percent students of color, 57 percent first generation college bound, 51 percent free or reduced lunch, and 6 percent English Language Learners. Situated atop a hill in a tidy working-class San Francisco neighborhood, it fits perfectly….exactly what a neighborhood high school should be.

The high school experience at CAT is entirely focused on supporting students so they can be successful in college, career and life. Staff and students alike are focused on creating an understanding culture and an expectation of college-going. Sixty-one percent of all Envision students are what they call “First Generation College Bound.” Envisions is proud to share that 95 percent of their 2008 graduates were admitted to college and have stayed in college—a very important distinction considering that less than 60 percent of all students who enroll in college earn a bachelor’s degree within six years per the U.S. Department of Education.

In this video, you meet the students and teachers of CAT, learn more about the Envisions philosophy, and see what deeper learning looks like in practice. At the heart of the school’s approach to teaching and learning is the school’s unique deeper learning assessment system.  CAT’s student assessment requires students to demonstrate mastery not only in academic content knowledge but also in those key competencies mentioned above…the same competencies that researchers, education leaders and business leaders say are essential for the twenty-first-century global workforce. Pay close attention to the part of the video that focuses on the graduation portfolio. It is really amazing to see what CAT’s students need to do in order to graduate. There is little doubt that CAT’s students leave prepared for college, career and just about anything else that comes their way.

Maria Voles Ferguson is Vice President of Policy at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

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