One of the first things our student guides, Fatima and Kobe told us about their quite famous school is that they don’t have textbooks and there’s no curriculum. The teachers use a project-based approach that allows the students to freely explore their interests and inclinations. We toured the high, middle and elementary schools and salivated over the art and science projects that filled the halls and filled my heart with envy. I want to go back to school again! I want my children to attend the High Tech High in San Diego, but since it’s a public chartered school, only American citizens can join but they have taken in short-term foreign exchange students.
The HTH website states that in 2010, 100% of high school graduates were accepted to colleges, of which 80% were to four-year institutions. As of 2008, 99% percent of graduates had entered college. Admission is via random lottery and there is no tuition. Wikipedia
The structures and projects that peppered the naturally-lit corridors like an over-exuberant art gallery are all made by the students. The photos above were taken from the high school and the ones below are from the middle and elementary school.
The campus is totally open. There are no walls, fences or gates except in the elementary section. The buildings merge with the neighborhood as if to say the entire city is the campus and the playground.
It has a Graduate School of Education which challenges commonly-held assumptions on how teaching and learning should happen.
For more than 75 years most American schools have followed three standard practices that are so culturally embedded as to nearly escape question: isolate students from the adult world, separate thinking from doing, and segregate students by perceived academic ability, class, race, gender, or language ability.
Since 2000, High Tech High K-12 schools have overturned these tenets by:
- Admitting students through a lottery and grouping them heterogeneously
- Engaging students in the adult world of work through fieldwork and internships
- Integrating hands, hearts and minds through rigorous, hands-on projects
The GSE prepares educators to design and to assume leadership in programs with a parallel commitment to equity, rigor, and relevance for all students. Rather than create replicas of High Tech High, educators learning through the GSE are encouraged to use our clinical sites as a context for learning: an opportunity to take risks, reflect on practice and shape their own vision for effective teaching, learning and leadership.
This road trip that we are taking across America doubles as a research project for me to explore alternative forms and methods of education. Many schools that I have emailed to request for a visit have not replied but High Tech High has an online system which makes it easy to book a tour of the school praised for its innovations. However, an hour-long tour and short chats with the students is not really research but more of a preview of what can be studied in-depth in the future. The school visits may be short but it’s important to get a glimpse of the alternatives and later seek out more substance. These may be baby steps but still steps forward.