Technology as a Tool
Another one of the 10 precepts of learning at High Tech High, posted on the wall like the Ten Commandments in schools of yesteryear, is a phrase: Technology as a Tool. In other words, at this school you won't take computer class, but in every class, you'll use one. Instead of a computer lab that students visit once a day or a few times a week, the school has a vast array of computer stations that students use daily as they work on class assignments. "We wanted to create a small school that knew its students well, where we use technology, not have technology as a subject," Rosenstock says.
"Lots of schools have invested in technology," says Dr. Louis Gomez, associate professor and associate dean for research and development in the School of Education and Social Policy at Chicago's Northwestern University and co-director of the Center for Learning Technology in Urban Schools. "But technology that is deeply integrated into the fabric of the school - that is new. I don't think most schools around the country know how to do it yet.
What schools like High Tech High and Union City have created, he says, "is a set of power tools almost any knowledge worker in the 21st century will use."
More fundamental than technology, however, is sheer school size. Ask the students at High Tech High. It's not the whiz-bang equipment and comfortable surroundings they talk about; it's the weekly meetings with their counselors, teachers who mentor one group of 13 kids for all four years they're at the school. Or the fact that their classes are small and they often get one-on-one instruction. "I've always been in big classes before," says Erica Gluck, a former student. "I've never learned so much before, or gotten so much attention ... I'm also a very visual learner, and it really helps that here we do hands-on projects; that's helped me learn."
Meanwhile, in Houston and the Bronx, the Knowledge is Power Program has created small-school pods within large, urban schools - and, with students who've been in trouble and failed in other programs, posted some of the highest scores on standardized tests in their school systems. On the Texas basic skills test, at least 97 percent of KIPP students passed in all subjects: math, reading, writing, science, and social studies. KIPP's Houston academy requires teachers to visit students' homes to help with homework and train parents to help, too; the teachers are on call 24 hours and must give their students their home phone, mobile phone, and pager numbers. They even provide transportation for students who can't get to school any other way.