The problem — and promise — of high school

The common complaints about high school are no accident — that’s how high school was designed nearly 200 years ago. But across the country, innovative educators are discovering new ways of teaching and learning.
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High school was originally designed with the goal of training factory workers and teaching the “average” student. Now, 200 years later, it still follows the same model — down to the bell schedule.

But now we know so much more, like there’s no such thing as the “average” student. And learning fast is not synonymous with being smart. In fact, giving each individual student time to learn at their own pace is proven to be a better way to learn and retain information. And long lectures? Better to infuse lessons with student voice and choice and project-based learning. We can learn a lot from the innovative schools across the country that have thought about the school’s culture, crafted mission statements, and work every day to live their values, show compassion, and meet kids where they are.

So what kind of high school do we need in the 21st century? This video introduces Transforming High School, a collection of articles, videos, Season 3 of our podcast, and tools to help parents and educators understand why high school is the way it is — and how it can change for the better. Explore what you want for your child and your school and share your discoveries with other parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, and the school board. When we raise our voices together, change can happen.

Find out more about Transforming High School

About the author is a national nonprofit with a mission to help every child obtain a high-quality education that values their unique abilities, identities, and aspirations. We believe in the power of research-backed, actionable information to empower parents, family members, and educators to help make this happen. For 25 years, the GreatSchools Editorial Team has been working to make the latest, most important, and most actionable research in education, learning, and child development accessible and actionable for parents through articles, videos, podcasts, hands-on learning resources, email and text messaging programs, and more. Our team consists of journalists, researchers, academics, former teachers and education leaders — most of whom are also dedicated parents and family members — who not only research, fact check, and write or produce this information, but who use it in our daily lives as well. We welcome your feedback at