Designing the New American High School

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“How can we design a national research and development center and amass evidence on innovations, best practices, and policies to support schools and states that want to retool or restart their high schools?” This is the question Sean Leahy of “The Learning Futures” podcast recently asked to a panel of educational leaders to discuss.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Fowler, Deputy Head of Schools at ASU Preparatory Academy and Executive Director of Special Projects, was among the panelists. She was joined by Chelsea Waite, Principal and senior researcher at the Center on Reinventing Public Education at ASU; Erin Whalen, Executive Director and School Principal of Da Vinci RISE High; and Nate McClennen, Vice President of Strategy and Innovation at Getting Smart. 

Here are some ASU highlights from the podcast: 

  • Accelerated Change. We’re seeing massive growth and accelerations of disruptions, technological and otherwise. Changes are occurring faster and faster. The role of a K-12 school is to prepare people to be a contributing and functional member of society. Maybe the system has to change to help prioritize what’s coming next. The new “superpowers” are the ability to pivot and learn.
  • Supportive, Developmental Environments. The teen years are a critical development period and schools need to prioritize providing supportive relationships. Waite said, “Yes, they’re places of learning, but you don’t learn unless you have trusting supportive relationships with peers and adults and have spaces to learn about yourself and who you are in relation to the world around you.”
  • Exposure to Higher Education. Fowler shared that at ASU Prep Academy, it is their goal to have all students take at least 12 university credits while in high school. “We really want them to have a positive experience with higher education while they’re here with us and want them to believe they have that choice when they leave us—all students, no matter their background, no matter their parents’ story and what they’ve maybe been exposed to,” she said. “We see our obligation as that all learners believe they have that support.”
  • Authentic Learning. Courses are not the only way to learn. Authentic learning starts as an observer. Helping out and pitching in. Building skills and being mentored. Given more complex tasks. Working on something together and skill building. Ask someone, “How do you want to learn?” Taking a course is generally not the answer received. “We don’t always get it right. We iterate. We try to figure it out. We ask what are kids feeling about the different things we’re designing with them? It’s really exciting to be doing the work in this space,” said Fowler.
  • AI, Access & the Future. Panelists agree that AI will play a bigger and bigger role for every learner, and that access to an AI tool will be important for knowledge building. “How do we get the students who’ve never had access to AI, and how do we make sure our schools are equitable?” are among the questions asked. Fowler said they’ve been pondering what high school looks like with AI technology increasing in play and talked about the partnership with Sal Khan and Khan World School and the unique learning it provides.

Undoubtedly, designing the new American High School is a systems challenge. It’s not just how to design new models or how to replicate and spread models, or the policies needed to be in place. It’s all things together and a lot more.

Listen to Full Podcast


Khan World School at ASU Prep Accelerates Expansion Thanks to Exceptional Academic Performance by Pilot Cohort

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Online Honors Program Enrolling Students in Grades 6-12 for 2023-24 School Year

TEMPE, Ariz. (March 9, 2023) –  Building on its successful pilot of a unique honors program for ninth graders, ASU Preparatory Academy is expanding enrollment for Khan World School at ASU Prep (KWS) to all middle and high school students for the 2023-24 school year. The accelerated expansion, which answers growing demand for digital learning options for advanced students, comes on the heels of an assessment that shows KWS students’ academic achievement is far exceeding expectations.

“With the launch of any new learning model, we’re carefully assessing its efficacy in meeting student needs and ensuring we are anchored to our commitment to increasing academic achievement,” said Amy McGrath, Chief Operating Officer at ASU Prep. “With KWS, we had high expectations, but the outcomes were far more dramatic than we anticipated. It’s a clear signal the program can bring meaningful opportunities for accelerated students who are motivated by curiosity and the joy of learning.”

Based on an assessment conducted after the first semester, KWS students’ Math scores rose an average of 50 points from the beginning of the year (typical growth is 11 points). Similarly, English/Language Arts scores saw a notable jump with a 48-point increase (typical growth: 10 points), and Reading scores showed appreciable progression, as well, with a 35-point increase (typical growth: 10 points).

While the results are remarkable in their own right, what’s even more notable is the unconventional methods that led students to this level of achievement, says Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy and author of The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined. “This is not a passive, sit-back-and-absorb-it-all experience,” Khan said. “Students frame their own vision for success and are responsible for the decisions and actions that move them down the path at their own pace.”

KWS, a full-time online school, combines the expertise of ASU Prep and the Khan network (Khan Academy, Khan Lab School and and in a unique model based on the core principles of mastery-based learning, personalization of each student’s experience and learning together as a community.

Students master core knowledge and explore society’s most challenging problems with support from peers and an inspiring network of world-class learning guides, tutors, coaches and peers who provide personalized instruction, academic guidance and social support.

As participants in the accredited KWS program, students progress through an advanced college-prep curriculum using a combination of high-quality, self-paced online lessons, small-group tutorials and peer tutoring. SAT prep is part of the curriculum and students have the chance to earn university credit in high school, accelerating their path to college and saving time and money when they get there.

KWS enrollment is now open to students entering grades six through 12 for the fall 2023 semester. The program is tuition-free for Arizona residents; out-of-state students will pay tuition to attend, and scholarships may be available. Students interested in enrolling can learn more about admissions requirements and the application process at

About ASU Preparatory Academy

ASU Preparatory Academy is chartered by Arizona State University and serves more than 7,000 students across its network. ASU Prep uses innovative approaches to curriculum to prepare all students for success in graduating from a university. Its mission is to design new models for educational success and raise academic achievement for all learners. ASU Preparatory Academy has schools in Phoenix, South Phoenix, Mesa and Casa Grande. In addition, ASU Prep Digital serves online K-12 students in Arizona and around the world. For more information, visit: