- Purdue University has opened a charter high school in Indianapolis designed specifically to prepare low-income and minority students for careers in STEM.
- Rather than traditional classes, Purdue Polytechnic High School revolves around a series of community-based projects, such as designing a filter system for the nearby White River. While the students still have homework and tests, they have much more freedom than in a typical high school. They set their own schedule, and work independently for hours at a time, reported Chalkbeat.
- Although school leaders are still working out kinks in the design, such as helping students who struggled with the necessary self-discipline and making projects more structured, Purdue already has plans to expand the model throughout Indiana.
In districts across the country, the traditional high school model is being reimagined to meet modern economic and job market demands. While schools based on the same principles as Purdue's charter — hands-on and personalized learning — are rapidly expanding across the country, there is still relatively little research on how they improve academic, let alone career, outcomes.
Part of the aim of Purdue Polytechnic is help students develop soft skills. But project-based, student-driven environments aren't for everyone, or even everyone with an interest in STEM. Some students may be more successful in a more traditional, structured classroom. The Purdue model, on the other hand, requires students to possess good time management skills and self-discipline. As Chalkbeat reported, educators found that students were spending too much computer time on games, causing staff to block certain sites. With 9th grade shown to be a critical year for students, it's important to find a model in which students don't fall behind and get turned off to STEM altogether.
Another challenge with a nontraditional school model is the difficulty of securing the highly skilled, highly committed educators who are the key to success. "Persistent teacher vacancies limited collaboration and strained teacher capacity, and principals reported difficulties finding and retaining qualified, experienced teachers," according to a RAND Corporation report on innovative high schools. But increasingly, teachers are showing that they are ready for more flexible arrangements that allow for smaller group sizes, more individual consultation time with students and strategic classroom design that can be customized based on the learning activity taking place.