Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 2, 1995

On Research:
Hopkins Helping Patterson H.S. Turn Itself Around

Steve Libowitz

     Within a year after receiving the U.S. Department of
Education's largest ever grant to a research and development
center, Hopkins researchers are rolling out an innovative pilot
project they think can become the working model for the country's
middle and high schools in the next century.

     The Talent Development model is one of the major efforts of
the Center for Research for the Education of Students Placed at
Risk, a partnership between Hopkins' 27-year-old Center for
Social Organization of Schools and Howard University. In making
the $27.7 million, five-year award, the DOE charged the center
with researching and developing school reform programs that will
transform schools serving students most at risk of failing or
dropping out.

     "People realize a lot of schools are in trouble, but they
don't realize how dramatic the reforms must be," says CSOS
director James McPartland. "When a school is more dropping out
than graduating, when attendance is about 60 percent, when only
one out of five are passing simple state tests, that school's in
crisis, not just in trouble."

     That was the situation at Baltimore's Patterson High School
when it got the news two years ago that it was one of two city
schools dangerously close to being taken over and run by the
state. Initial efforts included serious controversies with the
district, and Patterson parents, teachers and administrators did
not at first come up with bold new ideas. 

     Minor tinkering with reform at Patterson, and schools like
it, is not enough, McPartland says. Major change is needed.

     Last fall, Patterson principal Bonnie Erikson got busy
turning the school around, letting go recalcitrant teachers,
shaking up the administration and moving toward rethinking its
academic mission. At midyear it made CRESPAR a partner in its
effort to reform itself along the lines of the Talent Development

     McPartland says Patterson provides a perfect laboratory to
develop the high school model, which is less a brand new idea
than a unique combination of programs proven successful in other
academic environments.

     At the heart of the Talent Development model is the idea
that all schools can succeed with a college prep curriculum. No
longer will students be tracked out of demanding courses or
looked at with low academic expectations.

      "At the high school level, we're trying to fundamentally
change the climate away from students asking, 'Should I go to
college?' or saying, 'I could never go to college' to asking,
'What college should I go to?' " McPartland says.  

     "We want to begin in the ninth grade with the idea that
school is a serious place where learning goes on, not a place
where kids wander the halls and adults are mainly concerned with
getting through the day," says CRESPAR researcher Will Jordan.

     Among the guiding principles in the high school Talent
Development model is making the course work more relevant to
students' experiences, goals and interests while providing a
disciplined but caring school environment.

     To accomplish this, the model requires that high schools be
organized into career academies, a generally successful idea that
has most often been used within a school as an enclave for gifted
students. Patterson is the first high school in the country to
completely organize itself into these career-based

     The Talent Development career academies are determined by
faculty strengths and interests, McPartland says. At Patterson,
there are academies for Arts and Humanities, Sports Studies and
Health/Wellness, Transportation and Engineering Technology,
Business and Finance, and a ninth grade Success Academy, which
inculcates students with the idea of preparing for a career and
guiding them toward choosing the academy they will enter in 10th

     "Career academies exist here and there and have been out
there for a long time," McPartland says, "but no one has figured
out how to do it in a non-selective way. At Patterson it's the
entire school organization."

     "The Patterson administration and CRESPAR agreed on the
central idea that each academy should incorporate a college
pathway, so it's not just vocational education, and students
should strive to go to college, even if they don't make it," says
senior CRESPAR researcher Edward McDill.

     Another component the Talent Development model brings to the
pilot project is the organization of these academies into two
terms of four 90-minute course blocks each, a growing national
trend that has proven successful elsewhere. The longer blocks
allow students to delve deeper into subjects, but they also
increase the burden on teachers not used to writing such long
lesson plans. 

     "Our center is more than a consultant," McPartland says.
"There are a lot of messianic speakers out there who are great at
giving visionary speeches. But then they go away and leave
schools to develop and implement the vision on their own."

     The Talent Development model provides a visionary framework
for reorganizing the school day and the classroom configurations
but its researchers realize that concrete, detailed classroom
materials and resources are needed to implement the vision in
ways that suit the peculiar characteristics of any given school.
And Hopkins researchers show up every day to work together with
the Patterson staff to develop project details, reinforce ideas
and make changes when necessary. Sometimes, their involvement is
more of the roll-up-the-sleeves variety.

     "Being a partner with a school means doing some of the staff
work and grunt work and being there regularly to pull your share
of the load," McPartland says. "There has to be follow-through
from researchers." 

     Indeed, the CRESPAR folks have been there with Patterson. 

     They met all summer with the Patterson faculty committee to
get ready for the school year, performing all sorts of tasks from
scheduling staff development days to helping to prepare the
school's new faculty handbook. They also created a guidebook for
the 90-minute block schedule.

     The task that Patterson and CRESPAR has undertaken is a huge
one, they admit. "We're trying to break down organizational
barriers and start turning the numbers of dropouts into
standouts," McPartland says. 

     He says his hands-on involvement has made him feel part of
the Patterson family, but insists that while Hopkins has created
what he considers an excellent education model, it is the faculty
and staff at Patterson--and those at other urban schools who can
adapt the model to suit their specific needs--who will make the
reform effort work.

     "I used to wonder if this degree of school reform was really
possible," McPartland says, "but I now know it is because I see
how it's already working at Patterson." 

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