High School – What it Can and Should Be for America’s Students

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Summary: This November, the administration will host the Next Gen High School Summit, a national conversation on transforming high schools to better serve all students.

Photo: President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visit a classroom

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visit a classroom at the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, N.Y., Oct. 25, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


High School is a critical time when we rapidly mature towards adulthood, learn the key skills that prepare us for college and our career, and if given the opportunity, develop a much deeper understanding of the community and world around us. When high schools are designed for the 21st century, they are a springboard into opportunity. And in today’s innovation economy, with rapid growth in high-wage fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the role of high schools is more important than ever.

President Obama has set two ambitious goals: that all adult Americans pursue at least one year of higher education or career training, and that America regain its role as the world leader in the college completion. However, for too many American students, high school is a time of disengagement that fails to put them on a path to college and career success.

That’s why the President has called for whole-school transformation of the high school experience, and visited leading examples such as Manor New Tech in Texas and P-TECH in New York. These next-gen schools are breaking out new approaches to: help their students excel by implementing personalized learning for all students; rethinking the use of time during the school day to match student needs; assessing learning in ways that let students demonstrate mastery, creativity, and critical thinking; providing high-quality and continuous professional development to support educators; and a slew of other school redesigns and evidence-based practices to help students chart a course for life-long success.

Chart: High Schools offering math and science coursesStill, a handful of exceptional schools on their own won’t reach the millions of students across the country who do not have access to the rigorous content they need to be successful, including basic STEM courses and opportunities, and a greater effort is needed to bring next generation learning innovations to all students.

Only 50% of high schools in the U.S. offer calculus, only 63% offer physics, and between 10-25% of high schools offer one or less of typical core math and science courses such as Algebra I and II, geometry, biology, and chemistry. There is a particular shortage of these courses for students who are under-represented in STEM fields, where currently, a quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of African-American and Latino students do not offer Algebra II, and a third do not offer any chemistry. The data below from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights illustrates these shortcomings nationally.

In response to this critical challenge, the President has called for a whole-school transformation of the high school experience. The 2016 Budget calls for the establishment of a new $125 million competitive program at the U.S. Department of Education to help communities across America launch Next-Generation High Schools that will be laboratories for cutting-edge STEM teaching and learning, demonstrating the tenets of high school reform that the President has championed.

This November, the administration will host the Next Gen High School Summit, a national conversation on transforming high schools to better serve all students. This convening will catalyze new thinking on the challenges and opportunities for advancing this agenda, and to share strategies for progress. It will also serve as an opportunity to highlight new resources and investments – from the federal government and others- dedicated to advancing high school redesign work. All stakeholders will be brought to the table, from teachers who work every day to inspire their students, administrators ensuring their teachers have tools and support they need, researchers breaking ground in learning science, industry and foundation leaders who are seeding exciting work in communities across the country, and the full spectrum of other partners working to create a more equitable education system.

High school is perhaps the most formative time in young peoples’ lives. With the President’s leadership and a renewed effort from all who work to improve America’s schools, we can create new havens of learning and opportunity, and create a better system of education for all.

Challenge to Redesign High Schools

To emphasize ways in which we can rethink how we provide a high school education to America’s students, we plan to highlight strong collaborations that have committed to engage in comprehensive high school redesign work through new or existing models. At the fall summit, we hope to announce your commitments to produce more next generation high schools in your communities, with a particular focus on those that will benefit low-income and under-represented students, along with commitments to action to ensure more students graduate with college-level coursework or college credit, as well as with career-related experiences or competencies.

This web form will provide us with a brief overview of your goals and commitments and a description of your action plan. This information may form the basis of public materials developed for this event. We encourage interested collaborations to also download the worksheet that will allow each collaboration to share more detail with us about your specific indicators, data, and strategies you are using as you develop these plans. Only 1 submission per collaboration needs to be submitted and campuses may submit additional materials (if desired) through the use of appendices, which should be submitted to educationpolicy@who.eop.gov.

Please submit this form no later than COB Friday, October 30, 2015.

We intend to make the description of goals and commitments public in conjunction with the summit in the fall. While we intend to invite as many organizations making commitments as possible, we have not finalized the details of the event and will share more information in the coming weeks.

Roberto J. Rodriguez is Deputy Assistant to the President for Education.


  1. While access to these particular classes for high school students is an important step, it is only a small part of the over all solution for increasing STEM education in the country. Following access, the principle issue with STEM education is interest. Trying to tackle these issues at the high school level is not early enough to make a large impact. There should be a greater focus on elementary and middle school students, teaching them the fundamentals of STEM. Students decide whether or not they are good at math starting in the fourth grade. If there are not measures put in place to encourage students as well as teach teachers better and more meaningful methods for teaching STEM, then measures at the high school level will not make enough of an impact.

  2. As usual leaving the arts out. So we have the meat and taters but no salt or pepper….. Yell, we need stem but without he arts what is it all for?

  3. Parents are the most important and influential component of a child’s life during the adolescent development stages of students grades 9-12. Teachers and parents have been struggling for decades. Research proves the educational attainment level of a low income African American or Latino parent is lower than average. Low income areas and underserved communities historically have lower educational funding, higher medicalization of misbehavior and higher truancy as well as juvenile interactions. The reality of an educationally challenged low income adult trying to raise 3 children to be educated adults is unimaginable. Closing the gaps by connecting Parents and Educators in Active Community Engagement to Excel Children’s Education is the key to Future Solutions Now in low income communities growth and development strategies. Providing parents with individualized home based mentoring, tutoring, relationship building, educational advancement, and STEM awareness activities to assist in their children’s educational success. To enact a law for “No Pass No Play” and “No Child Left Behind” after a large percent of “now parents” did not pass and are still left behind. These “now parents” today seriously deserve redesigned education and help educating their children.

  4. President Obama, you have to go back as far as grade school, to get children interested in school, here in this part of NC. Grade-Middle- High children are board with school, I can honestly say it happened around the time George W. came up with this no child left behind ;” this also left the children sitting in their desk for eight hours a day ( board ) and when Washington put no child left behind into effect” they removed ( liberal arts ) . I believe you also have to make school interesting, fun, amusing at times to build up or improve on children’s imaginations.

    Note: there are schools in this area that are out dated, the school buildings are in very poor condition, the Middle school they don’t have fire sprinkler systems in the class rooms for the children safety.

  5. I would be interested in high schools paying closer attention to those students re-entering from juvenile detention. We must find a way to incorporate their strengths in education and not continuously penalized them for past mistakes. Unfortunately without education or a trade those very students will not be financial contributors to society but instead a constant drain on social, medical, and economical resources.

  6. High schools for special education needs teachers trained in applied behavior analyzed( ABA ) theopy. That should be a must, along with all par-educators trained. Autism is at an all time high and doing ABA theropy at an early age (grade school ) can help the country save on millions of dollars caring for them as adults? Trust me on this I have been caring for special needs for years 30 years. Normallifeinc.com see how I help parents adapt there homes. Only because schools don’t help these autistic children in there home setting. We need consistent in home & school settings! Please hear our ideas. It will save in the long run.

  7. My belief is that schools need to provide a more experiential approach to learning. Here in the UK (and the same probably applies in the USA) students are turned off by the functional silo approach to education. This means that maths, English etc are treated in isolation rather than worked into project based work which will bring the educational strands together and develop problem solving skills along with social skills to deliver solutions.
    We are working on two main projects currently. One of which is delivering a sales academy for a college through setting up a sales floor within it. Delegates will not only learn maths (calculating cost of sale/profit), Engish (marketing and developing sales collateral) but also social skills such as customer engagement etc. This will provide them with job ready skills and abilities and indeed, an actual experience of working life and the challenges which that throws up.

  8. We need to make education after high school possible for everyone. Country needs hair stylists, animal workers, nail techs. All higher learning should be funded. A liberal arts degree is federally funded but to cut hair you need to take out a loan. We need to make all jobs important so kids feel pride in decisions about their future. College isn’t for everyone and we would be doing without important service persons if It was.

  9. Rethinking high schools is a great start–and there will be many challenges to this. At the state level, there are school days and the length of school days, school funding, teachers to be paid, and unions which to be dealt. But, that does not mean that it is not time to shake up a system that has not been changed since the early 1900’s. It is time to look at the WORLD and change schools accordingly.

  10. Although I enjoy the spirit of the enterprise you are suggested, you miss the key to success: you need to counter the enemy of good education directly, vigorously: the TV. You need to train students to be biologically intelligent first, to eat, mate, and contribute to the human species success with intelligence. This mindset allows you to bring in forces of nature such as instincts, hormones, and all the biological weaponry of human beings into the program. Enemies that encourage irrational biological activities are then identified and defeated and real progress for the current and future generations starts to take hold. Think!

  11. The only thing missing from this plan is everything. What about the Arts? What about students with special needs? What about students who are English language learners?

    • President Obama, you would have to go back as far as grade school, middle school, to get children interested in school. In this part of NC. the children started to get board with school” when George W. came up with no child left behind, which left the children sitting at their desk for eight hours day ( board ) .The no child left behind, left a lot of children behind in studies, quoting the teachers” they could only teach what was on the no child left behind, teachers in this area didn’t like no child left behind, but” their hands were tide and they couldn’t say anything to help get rid of no child left behind. Teachers here wanted to go back to teaching their way, having the children get involved with studies, building up their imagination, making school fun and interesting” teachers were upset because Washington replaced liberal arts with no child left behind.

      Note: there are some schools in this area in very poor condition, the class rooms don’t have sprinkler systems for children safety.
      The buildings are out dated.

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