In 1984, Ted Sizer founded the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) to bring together examples of the radical school restructuring that was the focus of Horace’s Compromise, his work about the state of American high schools. Ted served as executive director of the Coalition of Essential Schools until 1996; during that time, he also established and led the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. CES creates and sustains personalized, equitable, and intellectually challenging schools. Essential schools are places of powerful learning where all learners have the chance to reach their fullest potential. Essential schools include hundreds of schools and more than two dozen CES Affiliate Centers that serve learners from pre-kindergarten through high school in urban, suburban, and rural communities as small schools and schools within large comprehensive schools.
CES practice includes small, personalized learning communities where teachers and learners know each other well in a climate of trust, decency and high expectations for all. Essential schools work to create academic success for every learner by sharing decision-making and helping all learners use their minds well through standards-aligned interdisciplinary studies, community-based "real-world" learning and performance-based assessment.
The CES Common Principles
The CES Common Principles are a guiding philosophy rather than a replicable model for schools. Based on years of research and practice, these principles reflect the wisdom of thousands of educators who are successfully engaged in creating personalized, equitable, and academically challenging schools for all young people.
Learning to use one’s mind well. The school should focus on helping young people learn to use their minds well. Schools should not be "comprehensive" if such a claim is made at the expense of the school’s central intellectual purpose.
Less is more, depth over coverage. The school’s goals should be simple: that each learner master a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. While these skills and areas will, to varying degrees, reflect the traditional academic disciplines, the program’s design should be shaped by the intellectual and imaginative powers and competencies that the learners need, rather than by "subjects" as conventionally defined. The aphorism "less is more" should dominate: curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content.
Goals apply to all learners. The school’s goals should apply to all learners, while the means to these goals will vary as those learners themselves vary. School practice should be tailor-made to meet the needs of every group or class of learners.
Personalization. Teaching and learning should be personalized to the maximum feasible extent. Efforts should be directed toward a goal that no teacher have direct responsibility for more than 80 learners in the high school and middle school and no more than 20 in the elementary school. To capitalize on this personalization, decisions about the details of the course of study, the use of learners’ and teachers’ time and the choice of teaching materials and specific pedagogies must be unreservedly placed in the hands of the principal and staff.
Learner-as-worker, teacher-as-coach. The governing practical metaphor of the school should be learner-as-worker, rather than the more familiar metaphor of teacher-as-deliverer-of-instructional-services. Accordingly, a prominent pedagogy will be coaching, to provoke learner to learn how to learn and thus to teach themselves.
Demonstration of mastery. Teaching and learning should be documented and assessed with tools based on learner performance of real tasks. Learners not yet at appropriate levels of competence should be provided intensive support and resources to assist them quickly to meet those standards. Multiple forms of evidence, ranging from ongoing observation of the learner to completion of specific projects, should be used to better understand the learner’s strengths and needs, and to plan for further assistance. Learners should have opportunities to exhibit their expertise before family and community. The diploma should be awarded upon a successful final demonstration of mastery for graduation - an "Exhibition." As the diploma is awarded when earned, the school’s program proceeds with no strict age grading and with no system of credits earned" by "time spent" in class.
A tone of decency and trust. The tone of the school should explicitly and self-consciously stress values of unanxious expectation ("I won’t threaten you but I expect much of you"), of trust (until abused) and of decency (the values of fairness, generosity and tolerance). Incentives appropriate to the school’s particular learners and teachers should be emphasized. Parents should be key collaborators and vital members of the school community.
Commitment to the entire school. The principal and teachers should perceive themselves as generalists first (teachers and scholars in general education) and specialists second (experts in but one particular discipline). Staff should expect multiple obligations (teacher-counselor-manager) and a sense of commitment to the entire school.
Resources dedicated to teaching and learning. Ultimate administrative and budget targets should include learner loads that promote personalization, substantial time for collective planning by teachers, competitive salaries for staff, and an ultimate per pupil cost not to exceed that at traditional schools by more than 10 percent. To accomplish this, administrative plans may have to show the phased reduction or elimination of some services now provided learners in many traditional schools.
Democracy and equity. The school should demonstrate non-discriminatory and inclusive policies, practices, and pedagogies. It should model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school. The school should honor diversity and build on the strength of its communities, deliberately and explicitly challenging all forms of inequity.
Why do we consider the Coalition of Essential Schools a model for personalized learning?
- School is restructured around powerful learning and trust
- Small, personalized learning communities
- Coaching model
- Equitable, and intellectually challenging schools
- Honors diversity
- Demonstration of mastery in exhibitions