For the recent release of the report What High School Could Be, a SCORE Institute was held to discuss some of the opportunities and challenges that high schools face in Tennessee and across the country.

After SCORE President and CEO David Mansouri opened with some highlights from the report, Dr. Sarah Fine, co-author of In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School, presented key takeaways from her research and some potential pathways to improve student learning in high school.

This SCORE Institute was motivated by extensive research focused on the high school space as detailed in the new report, What High School Could Be. Based on Fine’s presentation, key takeaways from the Institute included:

  • Student learning throughout all content, and particularly core academic content, should look more like the deeper learning in peripheral spaces. Fine and her co-author, Dr. Jal Mehta, were surprised to find that the deepest learning took place not in core classes but in the “peripheral spaces” — extracurricular activities with a shared community identity in which students chose to participate. Peripheral spaces are uniquely flexible and interdisciplinary.
  • Create opportunities to “play the whole game at the junior level.” Fine illustrated this point with the example of little league baseball. When kids play baseball, we don’t expect a major league performance, but they still play the game. Players are able to engage comprehensively even if they haven’t mastered all the skills. In comparison, classrooms are often so focused on incremental mastery that students spend the majority of their time reviewing skills in isolation rather than meaningfully interacting with contextualized material.
  • Student pathway exploration is essential for deeper investment and learning. Fine emphasized that high school students are not inherently disengaged — when teenagers care about something, they can be some of the most engaged people in our society. Community and industry partnerships are potential ways to tap into this engagement. The opportunity to experience the real-world context of a lesson enables students to understand the why behind their learning and to explore future pathways.

SCORE concluded the morning with a discussion on the transition to postsecondary education between Susan Rhodes, director of the Ayers Foundation, and Zander Alley, a current Vanderbilt University senior, former SCORE intern, and Tennessee native. After the morning session, a group of stakeholders met to discuss priorities and challenges in preparing high schoolers for postsecondary opportunities.

As Tennessee continues work to improve postsecondary and career success, high school is a clear opportunity for improvement and innovation. The Institute provided insights on how to engage students in a meaningful way that produces deeper learning. SCORE looks forward to learning more with districts and educators as we work together to improve high schools so that all students are prepared for postsecondary and career success.

Alexis Parker and Claire Ruegg are graduate fellows at SCORE.

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