Student-Centered Schools: Closing the Opportunity Gap

Posted by Stanford University on June 30, 2014

The rich potential of a student-centered approach

A new research brief from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) documents practices and outcomes of four urban high schools that, through student-centered approaches, are providing building blocks of knowledge and skills students need as adults. These schools are non-selective and predominantly serve low-income students of color. Their vision shapes what students are expected to know and do when they graduate, how students are assessed and taught, and ways they are supported to achieve these goals. Personalization enables adults to know students and tailor interactions to meet individual strengths, interests, and needs. This includes advisory programs, a culture of celebration, student voice and leadership opportunities, and connections to parents and community. Each school supports student leadership capacities and autonomy within the classroom, emphasizing connecting with and applying what is learned through culminating performance-based assessments. The schools draw on relevant curricula, inquiry-based instruction, collaborative learning, student-directed learning, a focus on mastery, and flexible uses of time. In-class and out-of-class strategies support ongoing academic development through advisories to provide academic support, differentiated instruction, tutorial and after-school support, and additional resources for English language learners and special education students. This all requires substantial investment in developing and supporting staff capacity. Student-centered instruction is challenging to enact effectively, but states and districts can support these rich environments by balancing common goals and local opportunities for invention and innovation tailored to the needs of students and schools.

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