Transforming high schools

by Pedro Noguera


This article, set in the US context, looks at the reasons for the lack of successful reform movements (improvement) in secondary schools. A summary of the research shows that these are: organisational flaws, particularly the fragmentation in high schools; lack of curriculum coherence; teacher-dominated pedagogy; student alienation; and the over-large size of high schools.

The author then looks at various schools that have attempted reform and identifies two that have had success. The main reasons for their success are that these schools took time to make sure that teachers, parents, and students understood the purpose of the strategies used to bring about the improvements. The students at these schools spoke positively about staff who could be trusted and who cared about their performance. Parents were involved and good counselling systems were available for students.

Another key factor cited in achieving successful reform is the monitoring of student achievement levels to ensure they are improving as a result of the reforms.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • In what ways could your school involve students and the community in effective discussions about the curriculum and teaching methods used in the school?
  • To what extent does your school listen to the 'voices' of students in order to get a clear idea of what their experience of the school is like?
  • When you implement a development focused on improvement in your school, how do you measure its effectiveness in terms of improved learning outcomes for students?

Further reading

Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Tiakiwai, S., & Richardson, C. (2003). Te Kotahitanga: The experiences of year 9 and 10 Māori students in mainstream classrooms. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.


Noguera, P. (2004). Special topic / Transforming High Schools. Educational Leadership. 61(8), 26-31.

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