High-quality and equitable experiences for high school students

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With support from the Barr Foundation, the Center on Reinventing Public Education will examine how New England schools are better serving students, post-pandemic.

Official grant name

How are New England High Schools Adapting and Innovating to Serve Students Better and More Equitably after COVID-19?

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Principal investigator

Chelsea Waite

Direct sponsor

Barr Foundation

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The challenge

COVID-19 disrupted an already tenuous system of support for adolescents, both in and out of school. Disengagement, apathy, and failing grades were common. Lacking support and facing financial stress, many students postponed going to college last year. All this happened on top of existing inequities, which the pandemic deepened and accelerated. In the midst of these and other challenges, school system responses to the pandemic introduced new opportunities:

  • More flexible and shifting schedules created the opportunity for teachers to collaborate in new ways. 
  • Remote learning brought new opportunities for student-directed learning and independence while also reinforcing how important relationships between educators, students and families are for learning. 
  • A technology revolution helped to close the digital divide. 

After more than a year of disruption, the boundaries of what it means to “reinvent” high school stretched, and in some systems, the momentum for change accelerated. In the coming months, schools will encounter a host of new and complex demands as they make sense of the past year’s challenges and opportunities, including addressing unfinished learning, spending a tidal wave of federal funding and navigating continued calls for racial and social justice amid a national culture war. 

The path forward raises a host of critical questions: 

  • Will school systems leverage momentum from the pandemic to remake high school? If so, what adaptations and innovations will they embrace? And which students will have access to and benefit from these shifts? 
  • How do school system leaders, educators, families, and students redefine success in high school? To what extent and how are these aspirations reflected in the adaptations and innovations that school systems embrace?  
  • What opportunities and obstacles do school system leaders, educators, families and students confront as they seek to chart a new course to high school post-pandemic? How can they avoid the pitfalls that threaten to stall progress, especially for the most marginalized students and families?

The approach

With funding from the Barr Foundation, Chelsea Waite, senior researcher at the Center on Reinventing Public Education will lead a 27-month project that will examine these questions. This project, How are New England High Schools Adapting and Innovating to Serve Students Better and More Equitably after COVID-19, builds directly on Think Forward New England, CRPE’s year-long effort to understand school system adaptation in the face of a global pandemic.

This multi-level inquiry will combine a broad look at how the region’s school systems adapt in the post-pandemic period with deeper dives that center on the experiences of school system leaders, educators, families and students. The two-pronged approach allows the team to examine not only what shifts emerge post-pandemic but also why, for whom and with what effect. The project will target system- and school-level leaders to highlight promising ideas and areas for improvement and their implications for realizing a more equitable, student-centered high school experience. The project aims to expand its impact by producing guidance and tools to help families advocate for high-quality high school experiences for their children.