New Designs for School
New Designs for School

We’ve all had the experience of truly purposeful, authentic learning and know how valuable it is. Educators are taking the best of what we know about learning, student support, effective instruction, and interpersonal skill-building to completely reimagine schools so that students experience that kind of purposeful learning all day, every day.

Learn More
Primary Contact Name:
Ephraim Weisstein
Award Date:
June 2012
Grant Type:
National Launch
Start Date:
Fall 2012
Startup Type:
New School
Not operating

This breakthrough model is no longer operating.

School Name: Schools for the Future Detroit
Grades Served: 8-12
Location: Detroit, MI
Operator: Schools for the Future Development
Operator Type: Nonprofit
School Type: Charter
Setting: Urban
Students at Start: 120
Students at Capacity: 480

Blended Model Type: Individual Rotation and A La Carte

Key Features: Competency-based Learning, Social-Emotional Development, Experiential-based Learning

Picture a 15-year-old student. Now imagine her in a middle school classroom, struggling with basic skills and a life outside school, managing part-time work and the increasing demands from friends and family.

Although she reads at a third-grade level, the term “grade level” just doesn’t apply to her—she’s a high schooler in every other way—and she’s strong at basic math, having helped out in the family business. Promote her socially to high school and statistically she’ll drop out by grade 10. Put her in a traditional alternative school or online recovery program and she might graduate, but with marginal skills. But if you keep her in middle school, what will happen to her?

Schools for the Future (SFF) offers an alternative to help her succeed. SFF is a new model for overage and undercredited students that uses a mastery approach to help them recuperate lost credits while accelerating their path toward college-ready standards and high school graduation. In its Detroit-based school, SFF combines intensive staffing with strategies to address social-emotional development with “wraparound” services like tutors and various technologies to support the diverse learning needs of students who are two or more years behind academically when they enter high school.

The heart of a student’s SFF experience is the “PACT Team,” a group of 12–14 students that meets weekly and is facilitated by a trained school psychologist. Along with daily advisory that helps students monitor their academic progress, the PACT provides a “home base” facilitating a personalized program. It anchors every student’s SFF experience and provides a regular format for students to develop the necessary habits and skills to graduate college and career ready. For 60 minutes each week, students meet with their PACT team to work on their social-emotional literacy, self-efficacy, group and individual problem-solving skills, and to explore their college and career options and map their pathway.

Students and teachers receive real-time data on performance, and parents can view their children’s progress anytime and immediately communicate with SFF advisors. Student-led conferences occur quarterly for a comprehensive review of student progress and support. As a result of these conferences, a student might schedule extra “flex time” practice on a particular skill, or he might work with his advisors to connect with a tutor. “Catch up” days, or even weeks, are available for students who need them.

SFF students progress through four performance levels to graduation. Courses at the first two levels support acceleration and focus heavily on literacy and math as the “languages of learning.” Students spend the bulk of their day working on core subjects. In a prototypical class, five groups of three students work on five different activities within a module, two groups work on a different module, and three students work individually on their Chromebooks.

Students attend SFF from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. participating in a variety of classes and activities that includes Learning Quests in which students work on self-identified projects of interest and recreation and wellness. Learning takes place in different venues--classes, individual work stations, internships, college campuses, and in the community. Through SFF's learning management system, students can stay after regular school hours to plug into their personalized learning "playlist" or do the same at home through their mobile device.

As students advance to SFF’s upper levels, Transitions and Pathways, they gain greater independence and broader options about how, where, and when they learn. Their “limitless campus” of school, web, and community-based learning opportunities includes blended courses at the school, online courses, Saturday academies or workshops, tutorials, internships, Summer of Work and Learning activities, community-based projects, and required dual enrollment courses.

By the final level, students are off-site as much as 60–70 percent of the day, accessing a range of high-quality learning opportunities such as college courses or internships that a single school could never provide alone. This approach also allows SFF to use an innovative and cost-effective staffing plan, with higher student-staff ratios at lower SFF levels (when students need more intensive support) and fewer staff at higher levels (when students are more independent).

The SFF team integrates wraparound services and a high-tech, high-touch approach into the high school experience. A valuable opportunity exists to apply the new SFF model beyond Detroit to help address the growing nation-wide issue of overage and undercredited high school students.