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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University November 7, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 10
Johns Hopkins to Help Improve L.A. High Schools

By Amy Cowles and Mary Maushard

Johns Hopkins' Talent Development High Schools program has received a four-year $3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help turn around large, struggling Los Angeles high schools by breaking them into smaller, more manageable, more effective academies.

Created by education researchers at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins, the Talent Development model is one of three national programs chosen to receive more than $7 million from the foundation to assist the Los Angeles Unified School District with strategies to strengthen instruction, student support and facility designs. The other recipients are the Institute for Research and Reform in Education (First Things First) and Architects of Achievement.

The three investments will help approximately 14,000 students at Carson, Jordan, Fremont and Washington Prep senior high schools graduate with the skills and knowledge needed for success in post-secondary education and work.

The Johns Hopkins Talent Development team will work with administrators and teachers at two of those schools, Carson and Jordan, to create separate ninth-grade academies inside their walls. They will also create smaller, career-focused academies operating essentially as autonomous schools in the same buildings, for students in grades 10 through 12.

TDHS-developed courses in mathematics and language arts are designed to prepare students who are working below grade level for the district's high-level curricula, and the small learning communities in the career academies aim to foster relationships among students, families, teachers and administrators. These, in turn, encourage regular attendance and achievement while deterring students from dropping out.

Teaching coaches will provide guidance and hands-on technical assistance for teachers as they implement new teaching strategies in a "block" schedule, a hallmark of Talent Development that allows students to take double doses of math and English language arts in one year. TDHS also includes a freshman seminar for all ninth-graders to help them set goals and priorities and strengthen their study skills.

"We are pleased with the opportunity to work with a school district that has endorsed small learning communities as an effective strategy for improving student achievement," said Maxine Wood, Talent Development's chief operating officer for site development and operations. "We believe the Talent Development model offers increased opportunities for students to succeed by addressing their specific academic needs. Our motto, 'Changing Schools, Changing Lives,' reflects our commitment and our goal."

Research has shown that successful schools prepare young people for college, work and citizenship by offering rigorous instruction that challenges all students, a relevant course of study that motivates students through real-world experience, and meaningful relationships that ensure that a caring adult is involved with every young person's learning experience. These elements are most often fostered in smaller learning environments.

Started in 1994 at Patterson High School in Baltimore, the Talent Development model incorporates all these components of successful schools. An independent evaluation of the model found that Talent Development produced substantial gains in attendance, course credits earned and promotion rates during ninth grade, and that the improvements in credits earned and promotion rates for ninth-graders were sustained as students moved through high school. This study, by the social policy research organization MDRC, focused on five Philadelphia high schools that had been using the model for several years.

Talent Development organizational reforms, curriculum and professional development are being used this year in nearly 100 schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia.


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