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Wednesday, 25 April, 2007 11:10 PM

Is It Too Late To Save America's High Schools?


Each weekday morning, millions of teenagers across America head off to public high schools. Many face the day with trepidation and a fervent wish that it was Saturday. And many teachers and administrators wonder anew if they will make a difference for their students—after all, high school today can be a bleak place. Dropout rates are climbing, students who do graduate are often gravely under-prepared for college, standardized tests have become the benchmark for success and in many communities violence, poverty and drugs are thrown into the mix. It’s clear that fixing our high schools has become a national priority but the big question is how to fix this problem before it’s too late?

According to author and veteran school reformer Grace Sammon, the American high school is the toughest institution to change. “Reform has become a big buzz word,” says Sammon. “It’s been the focus of many foundations, the federal government and the National Governor’s Association, yet with years of focus, dedication and hard work we simply aren’t seeing the gains we anticipated on a grand scale. So if we’re not properly educating our kids—should high schools exist as they are now?”

Today’s public school teachers and administrators face unprecedented challenges from students and parents as well as from local, state and federal mandates. Sammon outlines the cycle of frustration many educators feel in her new book, “Battling the Hamster Wheel TM: Strategies for Making High School Reform Work.” By aptly comparing the education system’s cycle of reforms to a hamster wheel, she depicts the relentless grind that educators face; always running, running, running but not making the gains they anticipate for their students and schools.

Consider these sobering national statistics about today’s high school students:

  • 7 out of 10 don’t complete courses needed to succeed in college.
  • Nearly 50% of African American population, 40% of Latino population and 11% of white population attend schools in which graduation is NOT the norm.
  • 1 in 20 students do not finish high school.
  • 40% of those entering college need remediation
  • 26% of high school graduates who enter four-year schools and 45% who enter two-year schools do not return to school after their first year.
  • Nearly 80% of the nation’s high schools identified by a recent Johns Hopkins study as having ‘weak promoting power’ are found in just 15 states
  • Five southern states (FL, GA, NC, SC, and TX) lead the nation in total number of schools that serve as the nation’s ‘drop out factories.’

Sammon does more than just dissect the challenges faced by public high schools in her book, Battling the Hamster Wheel TM Sammon draws on her 20 years experience working with schools in cities across the nation to carefully craft a series of strategies that have turned ‘failing’ schools into successful schools and works with good schools to become great (or works with all schools to create a culture of continuous improvement). “Successful schools are measured by more than standardized test scores,” says Sammon. “They are schools that have honestly assessed the needs of all the students—not just the top or bottom 25%-- and they implemented strategies that engage faculties to serve their entire student population. Each school community is unique and faces special challenges, however, there are essential best practices available to effectively drive a district or school’s reform efforts.”

Sammon believes the first step to getting off the hamster wheel and implementing real change is for each school to analyze their data and recognize trends. Then it’s time to be brutally honest. “Dr. Phil McGraw has this great expression—‘throw the skunk on the table,” says Sammon. “And that means let’s discuss problems no matter how much they may stink. Owning up to the skunks is the only way to create meaningful solutions.”

Battling the Hamster Wheel TM outlines the seven habits of effective schools and features a built-in book study and facilitator’s guide for educators. It also offers keen insight for overcoming common obstacles that often stand in the way of making positive changes. “There will be nay-sayers in every group,” says Sammon. “The key is to find a place for them where they can put their energy to good use and to show them how to be a part of the solution.”


BATTLING THE HAMMER WHEEL™: Strategies for Making High School Reform Work
By Grace Sammon
118 pp., Paperback $24.95 US
Corwin Press, 2006

Available at and


About The Author:

Grace Sammon is a nationally acclaimed school reformer who has spent 20 years working in American high schools. She is the president and founder of GMS Partners, Inc. and is a highly sought after speaker and internationally recognized author.

Her visionary work 18 years ago with the Washington, D.C. district schools was featured in a PBS documentary and inspired the movement to create ‘smaller learning communities.’ Ms. Sammon has worked with schools in 32 states across the nation with a focus on whole school reform. She has authored the book and CD-ROM Tool Kit ‘Creating and Sustaining Small Learning Communities: Strategies and Tools for Transforming High Schools,” as well as numerous manuals and articles.



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Copyright © 2007 All Rights Reserved.
Unauthorized duplication or use of Text, Site Template, Graphics and or Site Design is Prohibited by Federal and International laws. See our Notice/Disclaimer.