Coalition of Essential Schools
COALITION OF ESSENTIAL SCHOOLS
The Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) is a grass-roots network of approximately 1,000 schools and twenty regional centers around the country that seek to enact a set of ideas put forth by the American educator Theodore R. Sizer in Horace's Compromise (1984). Sizer found that, despite their differences in location and demography, American high schools, by and large, were remarkably similar and, quite simply, inadequate. He concluded that the typical American high school–with a huge array of unrelated courses taught in short, fragmented periods by teachers who face 150 students a day–promoted apathy and intellectual lethargy, and that the lesson such schools succeeded in teaching best, perhaps, was that school is deadly dull and has little to do with becoming a productive citizen or an educated human being.
Sizer considered how schools might be more wisely designed. Given the dismal historical record of major "top-down" reform initiatives over the previous fifty years, Sizer chose to approach reform not with a new and improved model to be imposed, but rather with a set of ideas that a school could employ in ways that suited its community. These ideas, referred to as the coalition's Common Principles, fall into four key program areas: school design, classroom practice, leadership, and community connections. In the area of school design, CES schools strive to structure schedules and staffing arrangements so that teacher–student ratios are low, teachers have significant time to collaborate, and all students participate in a rigorous intellectual program. In their classrooms, coalition teachers seek to emphasize depth of understanding rather than mere coverage of material, and they see their role more as a facilitator or coach than a deliverer of information. Coalition schools work to create democratic leadership structures, enlisting the active engagement of community members both in the governance of the school and in the education of students.
To aid K–12 schools seeking to adopt these ideas, CES has a two-tiered system of services. The regional centers support schools in the process of change by facilitating learning among schools in the region, providing carefully targeted opportunities for professional development, and offering technical assistance. Though CES regional centers vary in their particular program offerings, all are guided by the Common Principles and share similar strategies. Many CES centers, for example, set up one-to-one coaching relationships with the schools in their region; many sponsor meetings of teachers from different schools to serve as "critical friends" to one another; and many run an intensive summer institute for school faculty on whole school change, known as the "Trek."
The CES national office administers CES University, a series of professional development institutes offered around the country by and for educators from the CES network and beyond. The national office also organizes an annual Fall Forum, where thousands of teachers and administrators come together to learn and to share strategies and experiences. The CES national website serves as a repository of ideas and information and includes many active online discussion groups. Horace, the CES journal, seeks out important work and helps keep the network abreast of new findings in educational research. CES also conducts a program of research to track the results of CES schools and operates an advocacy program, to help inform educators and the public about the coalition's approach to schooling.
Several coalition schools have received national prominence. Perhaps best known is Central Park East Secondary School in East Harlem, New York, founded in 1985, and one of the charter members of the coalition. Many schools that joined the coalition more recently are showing equally impressive results, graduating and sending students to college at very high rates, and creating school communities with high levels of safety and trust.
The impact of the coalition's work can also be gauged by its effect on the school reform movement. Its ideas–creating small schools where students can be known well; graduating students on the basis of demanding, public exhibitions in which students present the results of their research to panels of community members; and insisting that curriculum must teach students how to learn rather than teaching disconnected facts–have become part of the language of school improvement. Such coalition phrases as "critical friends," "school coaches," "exhibitions of mastery," "less is more," and "teacher as coach" have become key components of many school reform efforts and state curriculum frameworks.
See also: Instructional Strategies; Secondary Education, subentries on Current Trends, History of.
McDonald, Joseph P. 1996. Redesigning School: Lessons for the Twenty-First Century. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Meier, Deborah. 1995. The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem. Boston: Beacon Press.
Sizer, Theodore. 1984. Horace's Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Katherine G. Simon
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