University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

XQ: The Super School Project

In The View from the OEP on September 13, 2017 at 12:31 pm


Last Friday, NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox simultaneously broadcast a live show about reinventing American high schools.  Although over 8 million people tuned in, you may have missed it, because you were watching Netflix or a cable channel. Ironically, that was what the show was about: disruptive innovation. To us, it felt more like an MTV awards show, with stars we only vaguely recognize, kids dancing, and hip sets, but there are real ideas and smart education minds behind the glitz.

When you strip away the Hollywood, the message was familiar…

  • American high schools are not meeting students’ needs. Our country has fallen behind in high school completion and performance on international exams. Students are not prepared for college, although two-thirds of jobs now require some college education.
  • American high schools are not increasing social equity. Longstanding inequities in the quality of education provided to different groups of young Americans continue to produce wide achievement gaps separating students of color from their white counterparts, and low-income students from their more affluent counterparts.
  • American high schools cannot change unless many more people participate. Reconnecting communities to their schools and students to their communities is key in improving education for our kids.

XQ: The Super School Project began as a challenge to reimagine and design the next American high school.  Teams from across the country submitted ideas and a year ago, 18 schools were selected to implement their plan. Each school received $10 million to help turn the ideas into reality, and new schools are up and running.


That’s some serious cash, and it comes from the Emerson Collective, the group that Laurene Powell Jobs (wife of Steve Jobs) uses to finance philanthropic projects. The funded schools have wide-ranging visions, including: experiential learning, individualized academics, biliterate teaching, entrepreneurism, entwining the school with other community organizations, serving students facing challenges of homeless and foster-care placement, environmental and social justice, civic contributions, and making the school like a modern, creative workplace.

Although there are a lot of ‘buzz words’ in the school descriptions, it is important to recognize that the projects were essentially crowd-sourced, and reflect the needs of the local community and education team that submitted them.  None of us have all the answers, or the time to individually reinvent the wheel, so check out the schools that were funded (or these other examples of innovative schools) and consider if any of the ideas would benefit your community.

While no Arkansas school received the $10 million in support, there ARE schools in Arkansas implementing a variety of innovative ideas, and the Office of Innovation for Education is supporting the work in 52 schools throughout the state. We love to see the innovation in these schools, and how the ADE is supporting their efforts.

We also like a bunch of the resources available on the XQ site that are worth checking out (although, like the show, they were pretty heavily packaged). We think you could use these with your staff, school board, or community members to think about changes that you all want to make.

Are these schools really going to be Super? Will the innovations make positive change for students?  How will impacts be measured?  Are the innovations sustainable without the millions?  These are all good questions that we don’t have the answers to right now. All we do know is that we can do better by our students.

One of our favorite parts of the XQSuperSchool Live broadcast was entertainers sharing what they wished they had learned in high school.

“I wish I had learned that it’s okay to make mistakes”

“I wish I had learned how important it would be to work with other people.”

“I wish I head learned about what it is like to actually live in the real world.”

“I wish I would have learned Mandarin.”

“I wish I had learned to be more tech savvy.”

These are things that students may be wishing right now. The XQ website has lots of student voices, and it is fascinating to listen to them. They want to learn, but see that the current system isn’t giving them what they need. students_voices


What do you wish you had learned in high school? Take a moment to think then comment below about what you wished you had learned. Then, take the next step and ask a student in your local high school what they really want to learn in high school, and ask how you can help them achieve that goal.



%d bloggers like this: