In 1986, Stanford University introduced the concept of accelerated schools, an approach designed to create success for all students by closing the achievement gap between at-risk and mainstream children. The idea is to radically change individual schools by redesigning and integrating curricular, instructional, and organizational practices so that they provide enrichment–not just remediation–for at-risk students.
The accelerated schools program assumes that at-risk students have “learning gaps” in areas valued by schools and mainstream economic and social institutions. The program also assumes that remedial approaches fail to close these gaps because they don’t build on the students’ strengths and they don’t tap into the resources of teachers, parents, and the community.
When the accelerated schools program is introduced into a school, the process involves several guiding principles and values:
Unity of Purpose–Parents, teachers, students, and administrators must agree on a common set of goals for the school. These goals become the focal point of everyone’s efforts, serving as a framework for all curricular, instructional, and organizational initiatives.
Empowerment/Responsibility–Members of the school community can make important educational decisions, take responsibility for implementing them, and take responsibility for the outcomes. This breaks the stalemate among administrators, teachers, parents, and students: It stops them from blaming each other and factors beyond their control for the students’ poor educational outcomes.
Building on Strengths–This program identifies and uses all the available learning resources in the school community, instead of exaggerating weaknesses and ignoring strengths. For example, parents can positively influence their children’s education at home and help teachers understand their children better. School administrators could make a concerted effort to creatively work with parents, staff, and students, rather than merely complying with them. Plus, teachers bring valuable insights, intuition, teaching, and organizational skills to the table. Furthermore, the strengths of at-risk students differ from those associated with predominantly white, middle-class culture, and often are overlooked. And finally, communities are ripe with assets, including youth organizations, senior citizens, businesses, religious groups.
Getting Started as an Accelerated School
There are four initial steps for developing an accelerated school. They are:
- Take stock of where you are, and establish baseline data.
- Create a shared vision as a focus for change.
- Compare your vision to baseline information, then identify gaps and needed changes.
- Identify 3-4 initial priorities, and establish small groups to work on these.
Hopfenberg, Wendy S. and Levin, Henry M., Accelerated Schools. School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA (1990).
Accelerated Schools, Newsletter of the Accelerated Schools Project. School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.