Updates and Changes to the Great Hearts Curriculum
Great Hearts is making academic refinements to our High School program in Arizona that will begin in the Fall of 2019. Though few in number and modest in scope, we are confident that these refinements will constitute a meaningful step forward for our high school students.
Great Hearts began as a single school with just 130 middle schoolers in 2003. Our first class of 23 seniors graduated in 2007. In the years that followed, we worked hard to make our classical, liberal arts education available to more students throughout the Valley. Today we rejoice with each student who completes our program, including the roughly 500 students who graduated from a Great Hearts school in May and the thousands who will follow in their footsteps.
In the spirit of continuous improvement, the Great Hearts curriculum team embarked upon a two-year journey to review the High School program in hopes of finding ways to make our offering even better. At the heart of this thorough and patient project was a commitment to preserve all that was best within our high schools, in fidelity to our mission, while creating opportunities to strengthen our academic program.
The team interviewed headmasters and teachers, listened to parents and alumni, hosted parent focus groups and reviewed family survey data. They also examined research related to classical education, and visited distinguished classical and liberal arts high schools across the country in search of ways to enhance the academic experience of our high school students. In the end, three key academic opportunities emerged:
- Finding the optimal amount of homework. Homework is key to forming the study habits essential to life-long learning. The expected homework load for a Great Hearts high school student has been three hours per night for a typical student. We have observed and well-established research on homework indicates that the best balance and sustained academic results for the students are achieved through homework loads closer to two hours per night. Many Great Hearts schools are already taking steps to set this level. Essential to the success of this shift is that we become ever more intentional about the homework that is assigned.
- Strengthening our writing program. The Humane Letters experience is a cornerstone of our high school program. In this sequence, students come into contact with the best that has been said and written in the Great Books. Beginning with 9th graders in the 2019-2020 school year, we will be introducing a more comprehensive writing curriculum complemented by a public speaking component. Together, these elements have been designed to better prepare students for the senior thesis, and more importantly, to prepare them to communicate effectively and persuasively for the rest of their lives. Implementation will continue by adding a grade each year (10th grade in 2020-2021, 11th in 2021-2022, and 12th in 2022-2023).
- Senior Course Options. The curriculum team found three desirable goods for a classical education that we did not yet have either explicitly or fully in our program: study of Logic, study of Rhetoric, and the ability for students in their senior year to select from a short list of honors-level courses. Thus, in order to give students the opportunity to delve deeper into particular areas of interest, we are introducing two additional courses of choice to the senior year.
The “Senior Course Options” will work in the following way. In the senior year, all students will continue Humane Letters and Fine Arts. The remaining three periods, however, will be filled by selecting three courses out of the remaining five options: Physics II, Calculus II, a fourth year of Foreign Language, and the two new courses: The American Rhetorical Tradition and Logic and Coding. The former will be an in-depth study of the best American speeches, debates, and persuasive writing presented through the lens of classical rhetorical principles. The latter presents formal logic from Aristotle through its modern incarnation as computer coding.
Juniors have gone through a request process for their senior courses. Each academy will do its best to make it possible for students to take their top three choices, but this cannot be guaranteed as seating will be subject to the normal upper bounds of class size.
All of our preparatory academies will be implementing the reduced homework load and the enhanced writing and public speaking curriculum within Humane Letters starting in the Fall of 2019. The implementation of the senior course options will be completed over the next two school years.
We are delighted to share with you these advances to our program and grateful for the feedback which has helped to shape them. To echo the finding of the research team: “The Great Hearts model is a best-in-class educational program for our students, and it has been an exciting challenge to take a tried and tested model and make it even better.”