Other key reasons why students do not enroll and persist in college relate to lack of sufficient academic preparation. Studies show that high school curricula do not emphasize the types of thinking skills needed to succeed in the high school and college classroom, and that low-income students often do not take course sequences that include rigorous coursework and increased STEM education. ACE’s academic model addresses these concerns by providing rigorous course sequences, increased opportunities to study STEM, and core curricula that will help students persist in high school and college by sharpening the literacy and thinking skills that result in deep learning, beyond rote memorization and regurgitation of information:

  • Well-developed course sequences and increased STEM education: In order to ensure that students take the robust mix of classes needed for a solid education and competitive college admissions, ACE offers a wide range of advanced courses typically not found in small high schools in underserved communities, such as Algebra 2/Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, AP Language and Composition, AP Environmental Science, and AP U.S. History, among others.  At ACE, students will be encouraged to take Advanced Placement courses whether for college credit, to explore a new level of challenge, or both. This underscores our deep belief that participating in college-level classes can be a powerful tool for demystifying the college process, and building student confidence in that environment. All ACE students will be required to take a full four years of Math and Science education.

  • A demanding curriculum grounded in literacy: A lack of skill in reading, writing, and speaking often prevents students from deeply understanding high school content, taking advanced coursework in the later years of high school, and being prepared for the “argumentative culture of the university.” The development of these skills is often sacrificed because of the misguided notion that they compete with the time needed to learn course content. At ACE, we believe the opposite- that reading, writing, and speaking are vehicles to think deeply about course content and to more effectively express what one has learned. Mirroring the approach advocated by researcher Mike Schmoker and embraced by schools like Arizona’s Tempe Prep Charter School, ACE’s core curricula will place strong emphasis on the daily experience of reading, writing, and discussing the ideas found in course readings. ACE’s “Essential Course Elements,” woven into all core curricula (reading and annotation, collaborative discussion and problem-solving, Socratic seminar, and writing workshops), will ensure that students will have spent thousands of hours immersed in the types of activities and thinking they will have to navigate in the college setting.

  • A focus on gradual improvement of skill: ACE leaders and teachers know that a key to helping students succeed in a literacy-based model is providing students with clarity about what good work looks like, and how to improve their work with each passing assignment. As such, ACE teachers will develop common rubrics for all Essential Core Elements. These rubrics will be used to teach the standards of good work, and to provide students with feedback that identifies specific next steps for improvement. In each class, Essential Course Element work will be kept in a student portfolio that allows students to use their last piece of feedback as a starting point on the next such assignment. Twice a year, students will complete written reflections that discuss their growth as readers, writers, and speakers. Using this approach, ACE will push the development of literacy and thinking skills in all students, regardless of their starting level of skill. Finally, students at ACE will sit for Quarterly Examinations (QEs) for times a year. These exams will be a mix of traditional multiple choice and short answer questions, as well as Essential Course Elements tasks such as reading, annotation, and writing. After each QE, teachers will disaggregate data and spend a week re-teaching key content and skills with which students struggled. In addition, they will make longer-term adjustments to their curriculum to ensure that students remain on-track in the development of the most critical skills.