Last October I wrote about a pilot initiative to identify and recognize public high schools that seek to close opportunity gaps through practices “that build on students’ strengths” — not by inundating them with tests. Today the first winners are being announced, and in the coming days, the schools will be profiled on this blog.

The people behind the Schools of Opportunity project are Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in the Rockville Centre School District in New York, and Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education who specializes in educational policy and law. Burris was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, and in 2013, was named New York State High School Principal of the Year. She is taking early retirement at the end of the school year to advocate for public education. Welner is director of the National Education Policy Center at UC Boulder, which produces high-quality peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions.

Here are the winners from the pilot initiative in New York and Colorado:

 

By Kevin Welner and Carol Burris

We are delighted to announce, exclusively on The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog, the 17 recognized Schools of Opportunity for 2015. During this pilot year, all schools are in New York and Colorado, with five singled out for Gold-level recognition. These high schools use research-based practices to ensure that all students have rich opportunities to succeed. Some are working against great odds. All put students, not scores, first.

In the upcoming weeks in the Answer Sheet, we will describe these remarkable schools and what we can learn from them.

The Schools of Opportunity project, designed as a way to highlight schools that actively and equitably promote the success of all students, was piloted this school year in Colorado and New York, with plans to expand next year to include high schools nationwide. It is a project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed in the CU-Boulder School of Education. The Ford Foundation and the NEA Foundation have both generously provided funding assistance for the Schools of Opportunity project.

The Gold Schools of Opportunity in 2015 are, in alphabetical order:

 

The Silver Schools of Opportunity in 2015 are, again in alphabetical order:

 

The recognized schools illustrate practices designed to close gaps in opportunity between students who come from advantaged and disadvantaged circumstances. They model what true reform is all about. Each and every one keeps the welfare of students at the center of their reforms.

We invite you to click in the link embedded in each school’s name to learn about some of the outstanding practices that expand opportunity for their students. Some of these schools are large, and some are small. Some are located in rural communities, some in the suburbs and others in urban cities. Some are traditional high schools, while others are small schools that serve at-risk students. What they all have in common is a fierce commitment to provide excellent opportunities designed to reach all their students.

The recognition of these schools is based on 11 specific principles identified by experts in the 2013 book, “Closing the Opportunity Gap published by Oxford University Press, which Welner edited along with Stanford University Professor Prudence Carter. These principles include effective student and faculty support systems, outreach to the community, health and psychological support, judicious and fair discipline policies, little or no tracking, and high-quality teacher induction and mentoring programs.

In order to be recognized, school applications went through four levels of screening, including rubric-based ratings by two evaluators (information about our evaluators is here). The Gold and Silver schools were all required to demonstrate how they used the identified principles to help close opportunity gaps in order to improve academic performance. Gold schools were required to demonstrate exemplary practices on a minimum of three criteria, and silver schools demonstrated exemplary practices in at least two criteria. Each of the 17 schools was also required to demonstrate advanced practices on at least two additional criteria. Evaluation teams were able to make in-person visits to many of the recognized schools. The rating rubric and the recognition criteria can be found here and here.

As co-directors of the project, we were extremely gratified by the high level of interest in the pilot year. There is clearly a hunger in our schools for a better public understanding of what they do for their students. We received almost one hundred applications between the two states, and even among the schools we did not recognize this year, we saw many practices that could and should be emulated in high schools across the nation.

We hope that this project will help move the nation past the constraining and wrongheaded Problems, Statistics and Labels discussion of school quality. Students and educators, as well as parents and researchers who spend time on our high schools, know that quality schooling comes from excellent practices.