Carnegie Corporation: Rethinking school design to meet demands of new standards

carnegieThe Carnegie Corporation of New York has committed $15 million to “catalyze district-based new school design work” that will focus on individualized learning.

To support this effort, they have also recently published a report, Opportunity by Design: New High School Models for Student Success. This report calls for a focus on how schools use teaching, time, technology, money, and other resources to bring all students to the much higher levels of achievement necessary to meet the demands of Common Core State Standards and, eventually, Next Generation Science Standards.

The report analyzes the impact of the daunting preparation shortfall many students face as they enter high school and argues that without a radical change in how school districts support high school design, it will be difficult for all students to graduate ready for college and career. As the new standards, which are designed to be “fewer, clearer, and higher” than existing state standards, are implemented, schools must hold all students to a significantly more challenging bar for graduation, while supporting and motivating students who may be further behind.

“Implementing the Common Core State Standards provides both a challenge and an opportunity to address the long-term problem of achieving both excellence and equity in public education,” said Michele Cahill, Vice President, National Program, and Program Director, Urban Education at Carnegie Corporation. “Taking on this challenge can be truly transformative if states and districts focus on the design of schools. We have enough knowledge, from both research and practical experience, about the conditions needed to enable teachers and students to reach the levels of achievement envisioned by the Common Core standards.  Especially for our high schools, it is urgent that we act on what we know and redesign for success.”

The report calls for schools to take an integrated and comprehensive approach to rethinking how resources are used to both meet students where they are and accelerate their learning to develop the necessary skills for college and career. In the face of the Common Core, the report says individual interventions such as adjusting curriculum, strengthening teacher preparation and professional development, or increasing quality learning time are important, but in isolation are not likely to produce strong enough outcomes to help all students meet the standards.

However, the report points out that there is evidence that it is possible to, at some scale, to raise standards and increase student achievement simultaneously through a comprehensive school design effort. Citing examples like the New York City Small Schools of Choice reforms and the expansion of North Carolina’s early college high schools, the authors argue that a focus on school design enables districts to reach a higher bar for all students.

“Schools are the place where the Common Core will provide transformative opportunity for American students,” said Leah J. Hamilton, Program Director, Urban Education at Carnegie Corporation and co-author of the report with Anne Mackinnon. “Powerful school designs can enable students to pursue individualized pathways towards college and career readiness while ensuring a focus on equity and quality for every student. Now is the time to build on successful efforts, while integrating new tools that can do even more to empower great teaching and accelerate student success.”

The report is a call to action for the field to create a concentration of effort around school design. It defines 10 design principles that reflect the research base in youth development and academic best practices, capture the input of successful educators, and explore the potential of emerging tools. These principles, when used in a design process that assesses student and district needs, should help produce a number of school models that can help all students grow to meet the challenge of the Common Core.

Carnegie Corporation of New York has committed $15 million in this first year to catalyze district-based new school design work, using the 10 design principles in the report as a starting point. In January, the Corporation also announced a grant to launch Springpoint, a new national school design institute that will catalyze this work and provide support to districts. Partnering with Springpoint, Carnegie Corporation will source a first cohort of select districts to participate in a school design development and launch process.

For the 10 Design Principles, see

To access the full report, see