Accelerated Schools Process
Accelerated Schools emerged from a national school reform movement established in 1986 to replace academic remediation for at-risk students with academic enrichment. Research studies done in the 1980s documented a growing population of students who were at risk of educational failure because they lacked the experiences in their homes, families, and communities on which school success is based. These students were heavily concentrated among minority, immigrant, and single-parent families–and those with low parental education and income. Studies of the schools such students attended found heavy reliance on repetition and drill, as well as a glacial instructional pace, compared to schools with more advantaged pupils. The consequences of this uninspiring instruction, with its low expectations and stigmatization of students in at-risk situations, were viewed as contributing to an achievement gap for at-risk students that led to failure and dropping out of school.
Accelerated Schools were designed to bring all students into the academic mainstream through academic enrichment and acceleration by replacing remediation with gifted and talented instruction. In the fall of 1986 two schools were established as pilot schools in the San Francisco Bay Area to implement the ideas that had been derived from the earlier research. The goal was to transform these schools from an emphasis on remediation to an emphasis on acceleration. The schools were exposed to the ideas behind the project and asked to consider if they wanted to move forward with them. Both schools agreed to work with teams from Stanford University to implement Accelerated Schools at their sites. From this initial work on implementation, replication, and research, considerable development has taken place in terms of the knowledge base, the process of transformation, and the expansion of Accelerated Schools. In 2001 there were about 1,000 Accelerated Schools enrolling almost half a million children in forty-one states and in several foreign countries.
The Accelerated Schools approach aims to make all students academically able at an early age through Powerful Learning, an approach to enrichment that integrates curriculum, instructional strategies, and school context. Powerful Learning is embodied in student research activities, artistic endeavors, community studies, and a range of applications where knowledge is applied to real-world activities. Students are expected to generate authentic ideas, products, artistic performances, and problem solutions across subjects that can be assessed directly for quality, rather than assuming that examination scores will be adequate assessment instruments.
The conversion to acceleration requires an internal transformation of school culture. The Accelerated School incorporates a model of governance and operations built around three principles that empower the school community to adopt accelerated strategies: (1) Unity of Purpose refers to consensus by school staff, parents, and students on common goals, a search for strategies for reaching them, and accountability for results; (2) Empowerment with Responsibility refers to the establishment of the capacity of the participants to make key decisions in the school and home to implement change and to be accountable for results; and (3) Building on Strengths refers to the identification and utilization of the strengths of all of the participants in addressing school needs and creating powerful learning strategies.
Accelerated Schools Process
Accelerated Schools require the training and support services of both an external coach and internal facilitators to assist the school in following the model of transformation. External coaches are usually drawn from the central office staff of each district, and are given a day or more a week to work with the school. Internal facilitators are teacher leaders who are provided with time to assist the external coach in providing training and follow-up guidance. Both coaches and facilitators are trained at regional centers of the Accelerated Schools Project (ASP) through an intensive initial session of five days, followed by subsequent monthly training sessions of one or two days. Staff from regional centers train and communicate with coaches on a regular basis through telephone follow-up and school visits to provide support for coaches and facilitators and feedback to the school. Schools are provided with an Internal Assessment Toolkit to check implementation progress as well as guidelines for end-of-year assessment.
The transformation process puts great emphasis on placing school governance and decision-making in the hands of school staff, parents, and students so that they can take responsibility for transforming their own culture and practices. School staff and other members of the school community begin by taking stock of school strengths, challenges, and operations. This is done through initiating members into small research groups. Taking stock is followed by a community-wide effort to set out a future vision for the schools with specific goals. The results of the taking-stock summary are contrasted with the future vision to set out areas of priority that the school must address. Governance at the school site is structured through cadres working on these priorities, a steering committee, and an overall decision-making body called school as a whole (SAW) that includes all school staff, parents, other community members, and student representatives. Each of these entities is guided through problem solving and decision making by a specific inquiry process that carefully defines each challenge and generates hypotheses on why the challenge exists. Hypotheses are tested, and solutions are sought that match those that are supported by data. Powerful learning approaches are developed to address learning challenges, and overall school results are evaluated periodically.
Both time and district support are major challenges. School staff and other participants need regular meeting times to do the research that taking stock, inquiry, and evaluation require, and to receive and apply training. Powerful Learning requires teamwork in constructing units, lessons, and learning experiences and sharing them–with the intent of always finding new ways to strengthen them. Governance can only be done through careful reflection and consideration of the usefulness of recommendations and the evidence that supports them. Appropriate time requirements include a minimum of six full days per year for staff development, as well as a weekly early-release day or its equivalent for governance, inquiry, and planning activities. Coaches and facilitators need time to plan and monitor school progress and provide additional training and support. District support includes not only meeting these time requirements, but also providing a coach with appropriate skills and the stability to enable the school to master the ASP process.
Results have been encouraging. Schools have reported substantial increases in student achievement, parent participation, community projects, student research, and artistic endeavors. Third-party evaluations have shown gains in student achievement of 8 percentiles in a national evaluation and about 40 percentiles in an urban sample of six schools when compared with similar schools not undertaking reforms. The accomplishments suggest that a school based on acceleration is superior to one using remediation for students in at-risk situations.
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HENRY M. LEVIN
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