Friday, January 18, 2008

The Historical Role of the CES Common Principles

My talk conversation at (next week's!) EduCon is on the Coalition of Essential Schools Ten Common Principles, which are, in brief:

  1. Learning to use one's mind well
  2. Less is More, depth over coverage
  3. Goals apply to all students
  4. Personalization
  5. Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach
  6. Demonstration of mastery
  7. A tone of decency and trust
  8. Commitment to the entire school
  9. Resources dedicated to teaching and learning
  10. Democracy and equity

The reason I'm using this list is not just that I find it agreeable, but because these principles are of particular historical significance. These principles coalesced circa 1984 from Ted Sizer's A Study of High Schools. The individual ideas were not, in themselves, completely new or original, but my understanding is that this packaging and contextualization of them was a turning point in the discourse on school reform in the US, that almost all progressive reform here can trace its lineage back to these ideas, and a sizable chunk of mainstream thought on the subject can as well. If this list has not changed the reality of American schools, it certainly changed the conversation.

So one question for you, gentle reader is: Is there another post-Dewey expression of principles for school design and reform that the CES principles are derived from? I am, for better or worse, talking about a short list or statement of principles.

I've also looked up some subsequent similar statements. All of these are in super-abbreviated form; follow the links for more detail.

National Association of Secondary School Principals' (1996):

The Six Main Themes of the Breaking Ranks report:
  1. Personalization
  2. Coherency
  3. Time
  4. Technology
  5. Professional Development
  6. Leadership

The Big Picture Company "10 Distinguishers:"

  1. One Student at a Time - Personalization
  2. Learning in the Real World
  3. Authentic Assessment
  4. School Organization
  5. Advisory Structure
  6. School Culture
  7. Leadership
  8. Parent/Family Engagement - Adult Support
  9. School-College Partnership - College Preparation
  10. Professional Development

Center for Collaborative Education Small Schools Network principles:

  1. Habits of Mind
  2. Personalization
  3. Less is More
  4. Equity and Access
  5. Lower Student-Teacher Ratios
  6. Student-as-Worker; Teacher-as-Coach
  7. Assessment by Exhibition
  8. High Expectations, Trust, Respect, and Decency for All
  9. Professional Collaborative Communities
  10. Flexibility, Autonomy, and Shared Governance

High Tech High Design Principles:

  1. Personalization
  2. Adult World Connection
  3. Common Intellectual Mission

Getting a little incestuous... the New Urban High School Project (1998):

  1. personalization
  2. adult world immersion
  3. contexts for reflection
  4. intellectual mission
  5. community partnership
  6. teacher as designer

Looking through this material has elped me work out the explanation of the diminished role, or at least profile, of the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) today. CES is, well, a loose coalition of schools working toward a set of principles, individually and in collaboration. Today's "accountability" environment encourages a much greater sense of urgency. Some of the Coalition schools evolved into "Charter Management Organizations (CMO's)," which deliver their designs to districts or charters as a product. There are other CMO's as well, of course, which strike a different tone.

KIPP 5 Pillars:

  1. High Expectations
  2. Choice & Commitment
  3. More Time
  4. Power to Lead
  5. Focus on Results

Aspire Public Schools core values:

  • Collaboration
  • Ownership
  • Quality
  • Customer Service
  • Purposefulness

New Technology High School process:

Schools interested in future NTHS™ school development must show 100% commitment to the following criteria:


  • Size
  • Unique School Name and School Code
  • Full-day Program
  • College Readiness
  • Admission Policy


  • NTH Learning System™
  • PBL: Project-Based Learning
  • Team Teaching and Cross-Curricular Integration
  • PBL Library
  • Authentic Assessment
  • Professional Culture of Trust, Respect and Responsibility


  • Technology
  • Network Capacity.
  • Designated File Server Room


  • Business
  • Community
  • Colleges

Professional Development

  • Visitations and Shadowing.
  • Start-Up Training
  • NTF™ Network Professional Development Programs
  • Tech Administration Training


  • Staffing Autonomy
  • Dedicated Staff
  • Principal Selection
  • On-Site NTF NTF™ advocate
  • IT Network Administrator


  • Separate Facilities
  • Classroom Learning Environments

Microsoft School of the Future Success Factors:

Success factor 1: An involved and connected learning community

Success factor 2: A proficient and inviting curriculum-driven setting

Success factor 3: A flexible and sustainable learning environment

Success factor 4: A cross-curriculum integration of research and development

Success factor 5: Professional leadership

I'm not, by the way, going to slog through all this crap in my session. Consider this background material. Am I supposed to put this on the wiki somewhere, Chris?


Sylvia said...

Each session has a wiki linked off the agenda page here:

Chris Lehmann said...

What Sylvia said...

And just to make it easier... yours is here:

David said...

Looks good, I can't wait...

Julia K said...

I'd like to add one more framework that distills many of those you note above. NWREL's Small Learning Communities Domains of Best Practice:

1. Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning Teams

2. Rigorous, Relevant Curriculum and Instruction

3. Inclusive Programs and Practices

4. SLC-Based Continuous Program Improvement

5. Building- and District-wide Support for SLCs

IsabelGeller said...

Hi Tom,
I just discovered your blog. I am interested in your take of the CES stuff. As a parent of one graduate, one soon-to graduate, one Division 2 kid and an entereing Div 1 kid, I have found the real-life experiences of the CES ideals to be facinating. If you would ever like some anecdotal views on CES in gemeral and on Parker specifically, I know Emma, Liz and Hugh would love to share their stories. Peter's take is a bit premature since he doesn't enter Parker until September. Hope you're well. love to Jennifer and Vivian.

CK said...

As you have several frameworks listed, this one is making waves here in the midwest. From the Hope Foundation (, their 6 principles for sustaining learning communities for Failure is not an option (Alan Blankstein):
1--Common Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals
2--Ensuring Achievement for All Students: Systems for Prevention and Intervention
3--Collaborative Teaming Focused on Teaching and Learning
4--Using Data to Guide Decision Making and Continuous Improvement
5--Gaining Active Engagement from Family and Community
6--Building Sustainable Leadership Capacity