At the turn of the 20th century, America became the first country to enact a 12-year public education system. We were first to create such a universal approach and so too, directly confront questions of equity and access. For decades, we had the best-educated workforce on the planet, building a world-class economy and vastly broadening access to opportunity for the middle class. We can earnestly say that we built this country on a philosophy of quality public education for all.
Today our high school students rank 19th in the world in science, 20th in reading, and 31st in math. Many—one in six, with higher numbers for students of color, low-income students, and boys—end up dropping out. Others persevere, winding up with diplomas that represent their hard work, but mean little to colleges and employers. Forty-seven percent of grads haven’t completed the coursework to prepare either for college or for work, and fewer than a third perform at the college-ready level on assessments of college preparation.
How did this staggering reversal happen? Our high schools haven’t changed significantly from the ones that achieved those initial results—while the world has. Our education system is still nested in that century-old idea while students are shepherded through similar courses, preparing them for a time long since passed.
The good news is that these are surmountable challenges we can all come together to solve. Students, parents, educators, administrators, and community members across America all understand what’s at stake. And what’s more, we have the tools. Science continuously reveals findings about the adolescent brain and how students learn. And in the classroom, technology allows us to transcend the confines of traditional teaching methodologies and the internet gives us access to infinite information.
This optimism is what led to XQ: The Super School Project. It started with an open invitation to communities to reimagine their own high schools. We had an overwhelming response, as more than 1,400 communities formed teams, surfacing thousands of ideas for new models of high school.
We chose 10 visions for the future of high school—redesigns of current schools or new institutions dreamed up from scratch. We’re also engaging dozens of communities with additional support to accelerate promising ideas into practice. At the same time, we are inviting all Americans to join in the dialogue, to stand up and make a difference for high school students across the country. The time is now.
XQ: The Super School Project is an independent affiliate of Emerson Collective.