New Thinking, New Models, New Approaches Lead to Improved High School Graduation Rates, Increased Opportunities For Students Often Left Behind

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Big Picture Learning Focuses on “Disruptive Innovation” to Offer Tangible High School, Postsecondary Chances to At-Risk Students

In our quest to improve public education, we often overlook the importance of the student perspective

A student-centered curriculum, close relationships with teachers, and real-world internships are the hallmarks of a education model that can best serve students most at risk of dropping out, according to a panel of researchers, students, and education reform advocates currently on the front lines of the school improvement and innovation efforts.

Big Picture Learning hosted a Washington event yesterday presenting the non-profit’s research-proven approaches for boosting high school graduation and postsecondary enrollment rates. Participants in Big Picture Learning’s “Disruptive Innovation” Summit provided tested solutions for helping policymakers ensure all young people, especially those most at risk, gain access to the pathways toward meaningful high school diplomas and life opportunities.

“With the U.S. Department of Education focusing on research-based innovations to school improvement and educational opportunity, we must ensure we are providing real, relevant solutions to all students, particularly those from historically disadvantaged groups,” said Dennis Littky, co-founder of Big Picture Learning. “For more than a decade, we have worked with school leaders to provide the innovation necessary to have a lasting impact for the students who traditionally struggle in the traditional education model.”

Big Picture Learning currently works with more than 130 schools across the globe, helping school leaders adopt a new school model that focuses on small schools, close relationships with students and advisors, individualized curricula based on student interests, relevant and extensive student internships, and a requirement that every student take college entrance exams. In 2006-2007, Big Picture schools achieved a 92 percent graduation rate (compared with 52 percent nationally), with 95 percent of all Big Picture students accepted into college. More than eight in 10 Big Picture schools receive federal Title I funding, while 66 percent of students are eligible for free/reduced lunch. The Gates Foundation regularly recognizes Big Picture Learning for its leadership in high school reform.

“In our quest to improve public education, we often overlook the importance of the student perspective,” Big Picture co-founder Elliot Washor said. “Based on our experiences, students thrive in high school when they see the relevance to their current interests and their future plans. Every student can earn a high school diploma with the right classroom and practical instruction.”

In addition to hearing from Littky, Washor, and a panel of current Big Picture learning students and graduates, attendees also heard from U.S. Rep. George Miller (CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, U.S. Sen. Shelton Whitehouse (RI), and Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for education policy, on the importance of innovative approaches to school improvement.

To kick off the event, Big Picture Learning honored Clayton M. Christensen, the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, with the inaugural Disruptive Innovation Award. The author of the award-winning book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen was honored for his extensive work in defining, recognizing, and valuing the concept of disruptive innovation, a key focus of Big Picture Learning’s mission and vision.

As part of the panel discussion, Big Picture Learning’s founders also released a series of white papers focusing on the core components of the Big Picture model, including: 1) images of next generation learning; 2) redesigning high schools to address the drop-out crisis; 3) college opportunities for first-generation students; and 4) school model innovation. For copies of any of these papers, please contact Patrick Riccards or visit


Big Picture Learning’s mission is to lead vital changes in education, both in the United States and internationally, by generating and sustaining innovative, personalized schools that work in tandem with the real world of the greater community. We believe that in order to sustain successful schools where authentic and relevant learning takes place, we must continually innovate techniques and test learning tools to make our schools better and more rigorous. Lastly we believe that in order to create and influence the schools of the future, we must use the lessons learned through our practice and research to give us added leverage to impact changes in public policy. For more information on Big Picture Learning, please visit


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