High Schools for the Global Age
The “old” problem of poor academic achievement and the new demands of globalization require high quality, relevant and engaging schools for all students. Since 2003, with initial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Asia Society has worked in partnership with school districts and charter authorities to create the International Studies Schools Network (ISSN), a national network of design-driven schools that are achieving success in attaining their core mission: to develop college ready, globally competent high school graduates. The network is currently comprised of 13 schools in urban and rural communities across the nation: 11 new schools and 2 schools that opened in the early 1990’s and joined the ISSN as “anchor schools” providing lessons for newer network schools. Network-wide, ISSN schools serve students in grades 6-12 or 9-12, 85% of whom are minority students and 74% are students from low income families.
The ISSN school design begins with a definition of the knowledge and skills that define college readiness and global competency in the form of a Graduate Profile. The Profile describes a young person who has mastered the content and abilities needed for college, including the experience of developing expertise about a world culture or critical world issue. It calls for a student that is a proficient thinker and problem solver, who is steeped in content knowledge that thoughtfully integrates international perspectives. It emphasizes understanding the interdependence and interconnections between global systems. The profile describes someone that is proficient in a world language other than English, able to use technology effectively, and to be a critical consumer of information from around the world. And someone who is adept at crossing cultural boundaries, welcomes collaboration and teamwork, and is able to view issues and events from the perspective of others from backgrounds different than their own.
The ISSN school design is articulated in the ISSN Matrix, a detailed developmental sequence for implementing effective practices and structures within the core dimensions of the school. These dimensions include:
From beginning to advanced levels of proficiency, the Matrix guides the implementation of practices needed to achieve the tenets of the Graduate Profile. It provides a common blueprint of best practice for ISSN schools, with much room for local adaptation, to chart their progress and prioritize areas for growth.
Integrating International Knowledge and Skills
At the heart of the ISSN school design is the reframing of traditional courses and the development of new ones that systematically integrate knowledge about the world and skills to understand how it works. While not forcing global connections mindlessly, it is by no means simply adding an international frosting on top of existing practice. Nor is there a one-size-fits-all international studies curriculum implemented in each ISSN school. Rather, we provide detailed course frameworks, exemplary curriculum units and intensive professional development in a curriculum planning process. The goal is to build ISSN teachers’ capacity for thoughtfully infusing international content and perspectives within rigorous, engaging coursework that address state content and performance standards.
In science courses, for example, applying scientific study to world problems helps students understand the need for science, contextualize scientific knowledge, and see how “everything is interconnected” through various systems in the world. And when students learn science by doing science, it contributes to global competence by developing analytic and synthetic reasoning skills and the ability to frame and solve complex problems. For example, in Christopher Chieh's Biochemistry classroom at the College of Staten Island High School for International Studies, students examine issues of hunger and food scarcity in the world through labs that explore the energy value of various foods. In Greg Kuhr’s Field Biology class at the Metropolitan Learning Center in Bloomfield, CT, one of the ISSN anchor schools, fish tanks simulate lake ecosystems where student-designed experiments with tropical fish show how changes in ecosystems can affect wild populations worldwide.
Science courses also offer the opportunity for students to engage in study with peers in other countries just as working scientists do. Several ISSN schools involve students in international scientific projects focusing on climate change, water conservation, species extinction and other global issues through the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN), a worldwide network that enables students and teachers to use the Internet and other technologies to collaborate on projects.
Social studies courses are fertile ground for developing deep global content knowledge and strong reasoning skills. American and world history courses provide opportunities to look at the lessons of history over time and in multiple contexts as a way for students to apply it to world challenges today. By connecting the local to global and the past to the future, issues in school become as real, complicated and connected as they are in the world out of school. For example, schools study the civil rights movement as part of U.S. History then compare it to the Truth and Reconciliation processes of South Africa and Chile to examine the theme of “conflict and healing” in order to understand those nations’ responses to civil rights as well as to more deeply understand our own nation’s response and the historical trajectory that it spurred. Simulations that engage students in a debate about when a country should go to war as part of a WWII unit allow students to take on the perspective of the Japanese in the months leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and then provide an immediate link to the current challenges in Iraq and the U.S.’s decision to use pre-emptive strikes. Use of the Advanced Placement curriculum in Comparative Government broadens the traditional Civics course while still immersing students in the principles of democracy and democratic principles. A world economics course also broadens the traditional focus on free enterprise to help students unlock their understanding of global economic policy and the interdependence of world financial markets in this globalized world.
One important goal in such courses is to examine the broad range of national and international determinants and consequences of events, to understand that people and nations may legitimately hold different perspectives on world issues. At the International School of the Americas in San Antonio, TX, another of the ISSN’s anchor schools, all sophomore students participate in a Model United Nations experience that requires them to thoroughly research and represent in debate a country’s position on a critical world issue. ISA student Elizabeth McLeod describes her experience: “One year I represented Iran, and Iran’s official position on women at the time was not my official position on women, I can tell you. So, by using Model United Nations as a tool, you can teach students to take the position of a country whose views may not necessarily be their own.”
Internationalizing English language arts courses includes expanding the traditional canon of literature to include works written from around the world, and teaching students methods of literary analysis that illuminate commonalities and differences across cultures as well as common themes woven throughout world literature. The ISSN has created a 9th grade world literature course focused upon identity and how identity is created and manifested within different cultural contexts. Literature from Asia, Africa, Latin America, as well as the U.S. provide hundreds of “coming of age” stories and fables as well as poignant works of non-fiction, creating a cultural comparative study melded with a topic of high relevance to fourteen-year-olds. The course is specifically designed to incorporate within this rich global context intensive literacy development skills to support the many students that enter ISSN schools, as in many urban and rural secondary schools, who are well below grade level expectations in reading and writing.
At the College of Staten Island High School for International Studies, students’ writing takes on an authentic international dimension through the award winning International Insider, the student-run newspaper created in collaboration with student reporters around the globe using Internet, blog and e-mail correspondence. Providing student perspectives on tough issues from genocide in Darfur to war in Iraq, CSI senior editor Anan Baig says the paper “is a chance to explore the world one teenager at a time.”
Connecting ELA studies to science, social studies or other subject areas provides an engaging interdisciplinary approach for deepening students’ development of global knowledge and perspectives. At the International School of the Americas, a Global Environmental Problems unit connects students’ study of environmental issues in biology and sustainable development in World Geography, and pairs it with the reading of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, which posits a world where man co-exists peacefully with nature rather than dominating it. The culminating assessment requires student teams to propose a research-based potential solution to a critical environmental challenge that is presented to a simulated congressional hearing.