Lessons Learned: Five Years in the Urban Schools Network

Publication December 1997

This is a publication about schools and institutions from our nation’s largest cities. It captures, in one place, the collective lessons learned as a national network of schools and institutions engaged in reform around the idea of school-to-work. But it didn’t start out this way. We began as a two-week residential summer institute for the development of integrated curriculum and Tech Prep programs. We became a five-year national network united by the desire to make schools better for all students. During this time our ideas about what it takes to do so have evolved significantly. And our ambitions have soared as well. Whereas we began with an interest in programs like integration and Tech Prep that often serve only some students, our thinking continues to evolve as we consider school-to-work efforts that involve all students.

At its core this publication is about hundreds of extraordinary educators who have dedicated a significant part of their daily lives to improving education and future outcomes for students. We came to know these educators by sponsoring residential summer institutes, yearly regional meetings, and site visits, as well as through Network Fellows, expert practitioners, who provided technical assistance to the sites. These opportunities allowed us to assist schools and to learn together about their implementation efforts. In July 1997 we held one final meeting of Network members to synthesize our collective lessons after five years of work. We reconvened representatives from twenty teams to discuss topics that form the chapter titles of this publication. These topics represent the areas of greatest work in the Network. We wrote this publication to help educators engaged in similar reform work and to assist policy makers engaged in the design of effective legislation.

This publication provides an overview of five years of the work accomplished by member schools and colleges in the National Center for Research in Vocational Education’s (NCRVE’s) Urban Schools Network. Each chapter, written by NCRVE Berkeley staff and field consultants, varies somewhat in style and format, depending on the topic and the authors’ work with Network teams. Some chapters address key priorities of the Network since 1992, while other chapters focus on more recent areas of emphasis.

Chapter One provides a history of the Network, defining its purposes, participants, and priorities. Chapter Two addresses the integration of academic and vocational education, a key area of concern for all Network sites. This chapter reviews the features of and rationale for integrated curricula and provides examples from practice. Chapter Three looks at how Network sites have developed work-based learning programs with a focus on quality and connections to school learning. Chapter Four addresses alternative scheduling, which was not an initial priority of the Network but has evolved as a key strategy at several schools to make time for innovative curriculum and out-of-classroom activities. Chapter Five traces the evolution across Network sites, from an emphasis on tech prep and integrated curriculum programs that affect some students to the implementation of whole school change efforts. Chapter Six addresses professional development strategies used by Network sites to support complex reform efforts. Chapter Seven provides snapshots of guidance programs across the Network.

Along with fostering collaboration between academic and vocational curriculum and between schools and business partners, Network sites worked to build links between secondary and postsecondary institutions, a topic touched on in Chapter Eight. Chapter Nine discusses the challenges of program evaluation, particularly when trying to track students within and between different programs and institutions. Finally in Chapter 10 the current Director of the Urban Schools Network, looks back over five years of progress to synthesize the lessons about school change applicable to any school reform effort.

Andrew E. N., Dornsife, C., Flack, M., Hallinan M. T., Jackson, L., Raby, M., & Steadman, M. H. (1997, December). Lessons learned: Five years in the urban schools network. Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education.

Download the report (PDF)