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University of Southern Maine Finds Links Between Student-Centered Learning, Efficiency and Student Performance

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A new study, "More Efficient High Schools in Maine: Emerging Student-Centered Learning Communities," released by the University of Southern Maine finds that high-performing and efficient high schools can also be student-centered to enable all learners to obtain the skills, knowledge, and supports necessary to succeed in a 21st century economy.

Funded in part by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF), the report by the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine sampled seven of Maine’s high schools – five designated as “More Efficient” and two as “Typical Schools” by the report’s research team. “More Efficient” schools are defined as schools that exhibit higher student academic performance and a higher return on spending. Analysis revealed that a singular, sustained focus that places students and their intellectual development at the center of all learning was unique among the “More Efficient” high schools.

“Many characteristics found in Maine’s ‘More Efficient’ high schools can be attributed to the successful adoption of student-centered learning approaches,” said Nicholas C. Donohue, President and CEO of NMEF. “As states and districts continue to face budget shortfalls, this report shows a clear path forward for schools to deliver student-centered approaches efficiently and equitably to help more learners achieve at a higher level.”

The report found evidence that the “More Efficient” high schools exhibit the following principles of student-centered approaches to learning, as defined by NMEF: 

  • Equity – High standards, high expectations and equitable opportunities for all students and adults in the school community;
  • Varied Learning Environments – Students take shared responsibility for learning in a variety of settings, including real-world situations;
  • Professional Development – Support for teachers and other role models to act as coach and guide;
  • Community Engagement – Schools effectively coordinate communication and collaboration between school-families and school-community.

Findings show that the “More Efficient” high schools experienced considerable success in helping students master core academic subject knowledge and develop intellectually to be able to understand, transform, and share their learning. There is ample evidence of high standards and the use of multiple assessments to measure progress. In addition, teachers and leaders are actively engaged in creating a school culture that helps students acquire more responsibility for their own learning.

About the Nellie Mae Education Foundation:

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation is the largest charitable organization in New England that focuses exclusively on education. The Foundation supports the promotion and integration of student-centered approaches to learning at the middle and high school levels across New England. To elevate student-centered approaches, the Foundation utilizes a three-part strategy that focuses on: developing and enhancing models of practice; reshaping education policies; and increasing public understanding and demand for high quality educational experiences. The Foundation’s initiative areas are: District Level Systems Change; State Level Systems Change; Research and Development; and Public Understanding. Since 1998, the Foundation has distributed over $123 million in grants.