Today, I had the opportunity for an in-depth visit to an urban New Tech High School in Indianapolis, IN. Indiana is aggressively adopting this new model for high school and I wanted to understand the model and make my own assessments about its value.
Brief Explanation of New Tech High School
New Tech High School (NTHS) is a different way of approaching high school education. It started in Napa Valley, CA in 1995, initiated by the local business community out of frustration with their new, young employees – a lack of relevant knowledge, no technology skills, an inability to work in groups, a lack of confidence and leadership.
That frustration led to the creation of the first NTHS with goal of preparing students to excel in an information-based, technologically advanced society.
The National NTHS Mission
NTHS’ mission is to re-invent teaching and learning for the 21st Century by offering a proven model and a fully integrated suite of tools designed to facilitate the creation and management of a relevant and engaging 21st Century education. At the beginning of 2009, there were 40 NTHS in 10 states supported by the New Technology Foundation.
Indiana’s Arsenal New Tech High School - In Brief:
Most of these students will be the first ever in their families to graduate from high school - 77% of them come from low-income families. Of the 170 students (all freshman and sophomores now) 55% are African-American, 39% Caucasian, 6% Hispanic. 19% of the students have special needs.
The school is part of Indianapolis Public Schools district-wide Magnet Program.
The staff consists of 11 classroom facilitators (teachers), one guidance counselor, one student affairs assistant, one Director. Their Web Site...
What did I see at Indiana’s Arsenal NTHS?
- A very passionate, charismatic, and inspiring Director, Scott DeFreese
- A small group of highly engaged, energetic and motivated teachers – ranging from one with 40 years as a teacher to several new teachers and one Teach For America Corps member.
- Unique physical facilities – very large, open, high ceiling classrooms
- NO TEXTBOOKS – every student has a laptop, all courses are delivered online and work is submitted electronically
- The courses are presented predominantly as interdisciplinary, group-based projects with the students working in teams, both assigned and self-selected
- A high degree of open dialog and stand up presentations by the students
- Large class size (40+ students) and two teachers with complementary expertise – History and English, Algebra and Physics, Biology and Digital Technology
- A palpable sense of caring, TRUST, mutual respect. See student video on TRUST
Is NTHS the model for 21st Century Education?
I liked A LOT of what I saw at Arsenal NTHS and how the students were learning. Harvard’s Tony Wagner has correctly identified the key skills students will need, beyond core knowledge and strong cognitive ability, for success in the 21st century in his new book The Global Achievement Gap:
* Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving
* Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
* Agility and Adaptability
* Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
* Effective Oral and Written Communication
* Accessing and Analyzing Information
* Curiosity and Imagination
Using the 7 Wagner Skills, I Contrast Arsenal’s NTHS students to peer students in other inner city high schools
- NTHS students have an intellectual self-confidence not typical of urban students.
- They are very much at ease speaking to an individual or a large group of adults. Their oral communication skills are vastly superior to most inner city students. See short video1. See short video 2.
- The students are very comfortable working in groups and enjoy collaborating to bring a project to fruition. They also assess their own and others’ performance regularly – so they learn to give and receive constructive criticism. See short video.
- The interdisciplinary projects require the students to be more adaptable and to integrate multiple concepts into their multi-dimensional project presentations.
- The students use the Internet and are able to explore way beyond a textbook and the teacher’s knowledge.
- The students were clearly more creative and inquisitive.
- There is obvious respect among the students and by the students toward the teachers. See short video.
- The large rooms and highly interactive setting makes for a lively learning environment – I’d prefer it to a standard classroom!
Open questions about NTHS:
In general, I would say the NTHS is absolutely superior to traditional U.S. high school. My questions/concerns about NTHS as the 21st century high school model are these:
Curriculum level – Indianapolis’ NTHS is teaching to Indiana’s Core 40 standards. While those are higher academic standards than in the past and higher than many states, they are well-below Global Academic Standards.
Core Knowledge – the students at NTHS are much better prepared for the 21st century using Tony Wagner’s skill list, however, I’m uncertain how well they have absorbed specific knowledge. I hate to be critical, because I was impressed by so much, but although the students are self-confident in their speaking, their grammar was frequently incorrect.
Scalability of NTHS Model – the NTHS model is more expensive than traditional public schools – the laptops and the physical facilities, for example. The larger question is - can a majority of America’s one million high school teachers can adapt to the NTHS model? It is a far cry from how colleges of education teach teachers. And it requires a teacher to posses unique skills and characteristics to be successful.
In my opinion, the NTHS model is closer to the 21st century than traditional high schools and I believe it is a viable model for communities that can afford it and where the Teacher’s Union will be flexible enough to allow it to flourish. The choice of Director is critical and the Director needs a lot of discretion in selecting and training the teachers.
My one overarching question is - can NTHS academic standards be taken to Global levels and how might the approach need to be modified to ensure Core Knowledge is achieved in addition to the Wagner 21st Century Skills?
Certainly, New Tech High School is a serious move in the right direction. And I applaud Governor Daniels and Superintendent Bennett for supporting it.