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The Covid-19 pandemic and recovery period is a unique opportunity to understand contemporary issues in high school reform. Evidence has clearly demonstrated lingering Covid impacts on adolescent students that have deepened pre-existing inequities and worsened teen mental health. There's a natural desire to regain normalcy after the pandemic. But it's essential, and urgent, that we examine why that "normalcy" failed in the past to support every student's needs. We must identify effective, even new, ways to level the playing field for today's students, and for future generations. Research has shown that many high school educators and administrators experimented with new approaches during the pandemic. Can the lessons learned in this period contribute to more lasting, transformative shifts?This report begins to answer that question. Beginning in 2022, Arizona State University's Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and Columbia University's Center for Public Research and Leadership (CPRL)—with support from the Barr Foundation—began studying innovations in six public high schools in New England. We chose schools in a range of contexts that all had some form of redesign underway. Over 20 months, we interviewed students who had begun high school around when the pandemic struck; most of them had graduated by the end of the study in December 2023. We also interviewed students' caregivers, teachers, and administrators. We wanted to know what success meant for students and the adults in their lives, and how schools were making changes—including before the pandemic—to ensure every student had the opportunity to learn and thrive. We listened for where schools were succeeding, and what challenges they faced in the new normal of a post-pandemic landscape.
Databases and lists that offer information about innovative schools unintentionally contribute to the problem, as a lack of standard terminology and data structures forces them into siloes. As a result, knowledge of how schools are reimagining the learning experience for students remains deeply fragmented and woefully insufficient, creating real consequences—not only for funders, researchers, and school support organizations, but ultimately for the evolution and spread of promising practices.Recognizing this challenge, the Christensen Institute has worked with a range of partners to launch a project we're calling the Canopy: an effort to build better collective knowledge about the diverse range of schools offering learning experiences designed with students at the center. More than just another list, the Canopy reimagines both where information comes from as well as how it is structured to address some of the fractures in the current system. By casting a wide net through a crowdsourcing approach, Canopy surfaced 235 schools making strides towards student-centered learning—72% of which do not appear on other commonly referenced lists of innovative schools. Nominators and schools also used a consistent set of "tags" or common keywords to describe each school's model, meaning the dataset can be filtered, analyzed, and built out over time.This initial stage of the Canopy demonstrates how a process designed to advance collective knowledge has the potential to unveil a more diverse, complete picture of K-12 school innovation. We hope this leads to additional research efforts, and ultimately supports the development and scale of promising innovative approaches across the country.
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