International Studies Schools

The International Studies Schools Network (ISSN) serves as the laboratory in which we have  piloted and refined our method of instruction and assessment that prepares students to engage in the global innovation age.

What is the International Studies Schools Network?

Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network is a network of 35 secondary schools located in 8 states (NY, CA, NC, IL, CO, TX, OH, and ME) that is preparing over 16,000 predominantly low-income and minority students for college and career in a globalized world. Most are urban public high schools, but the network also includes several elementary schools, charter schools, suburban, and rural schools.

The International Studies Schools Network was founded in 2003, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Asia Society established the ISSN to address two intertwined imperatives facing American education.

The first is overcoming the chronic problem of poor academic performance. The U.S. education system persistently struggles to promote uniformly high achievement among students that in turn prepare them for college or other postsecondary education. The problem is extensive and well documented, especially as it pertains to minority and immigrant children, and children living in urban and rural poverty. Nationally, as many as 25% of all students do not finish high school , with nearly 50% of low income and minority students dropping out. More than 7,000 students drop out every school day.

The second is preparing students for work and civic roles in a globalized environment, where success increasingly requires the ability to compete, connect, and cooperate on an international scale.

In todays’ world, everything is global. Even the shirt you’re wearing has probably already traveled all over the world. The cotton could have been grown and made into fabric in Uzebkistan, before traveling to Italy to be dyed, then on to Bangladesh to sewn into a shirt, then to the United States, where you bought it. Just as this example represents, the world, our economies, our raw materials, and our people are growing increasingly interwoven and reliant upon one another.

Given this global reality, success requires that students know about the rest of the world and how to interact with it. They need to be ready to connect and collaborate with people from all over the world so that they can face head on the many challenges and opportunities facing the rising generation.

The International Studies Schools Network strives to simultaneously address each of these intertwined issues.

High Academic Achievement

The ISSN strives to address the challenge of poor academic performance by promoting high-quality education and strong student achievement among students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Hypothesi LLC, a research and evaluation organization, has analyzed data on Network schools from 2004 – 2011. Across the network of 35 schools (20 high schools, 6 middle schools, 6 middle/high schools, and 3 elementary schools), 82% of ISSN students are minorities, 67% are from low-income families, and 14% are English Language Learners. The demographic profile of the ISSN has been very consistent as it has expanded from 3 to 35 schools.

Each year, comparisons of ISSN schools to demographically similar schools in the same school district were conducted using data drawn from state assessments on grade levels and subjects tested. The most recent data show ISSN schools outperform demographically similar schools on state assessments in about 66% of such comparisons.  ISSN schools had a graduation rate of 89%, substantially higher than the typical graduation rate for students in urban school systems of about 61%.  These results have been consistent over seven years of data collection.

Ready for the Global Innovation Age

Asia Society has defined Global Competence  as the capacity and disposition to use knowledge and skills in various disciplines to understand and act on issues of global significance. We feel that this definition encompasses the skills and capacities that will prepare students for today’s interconnected world. 

We operationalize this definition of global competence and the teaching and assessment that creates globally competent students in our ISSN schools. Global learning is infused into every aspect of these schools.  These educators and leaders recognize the world has changed and are working to adapt with it. We we are supporting  them as they strive to prepare their students to succeed in the global innovation age.

While most of the world now recognizes this reality and the importance of global learning, in many cases, we’re still only preparing pockets of our students for success. Too often, learning with and about the world is seen as something for the elite or the affluent.  This must change. We must ensure that all our students are given the skills and experiences needed to thrive in our interconnected world.

The ISSN is working to make this change happen. The network is working to refine and perfect global learning across socioeconomic and ethnic boundaries. The schools and educators in the network are striving to  create real postsecondary opportunity – be it college or career –  for all students.

Asia Society and the schools and educators within the ISSN refuse to accept that high-quality, global education is only for a certain segment of the population and work everyday to refine their instruction and assessment and to provide examples of what it looks like to successfully prepare all students to engage their global future.

Asia Society’s Role

Asia Society supports and trains teachers and principals as they develop a comprehensive approach to school organization and culture; curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and parent and community involvement that guides the implementation of practices needed to graduate students who are ready for college—and the interconnected world beyond.

Asia Society does not promote a single, prescriptive school structure. Instead, the starting point for all of its schools is a shared definition of a college-ready, globally competent graduate. The ISSN Graduate Profile describes a student who has mastered the knowledge and skills required for college, has expertise in core content areas from a global perspective, is a proficient thinker and problem solver, can view and analyze issues and events from varying perspectives, can communicate in more than one language and collaborate across cultural boundaries, and fulfills the responsibilities of global citizenship.

Several other criteria exemplify the international studies approach:

  • Global content, skills, and perspectives are embedded in the core content areas. Students explore global topics in all of their classes. Curriculum units are often organized around global themes, supporting students to make connections across disciplines.
  • World languages are part of the core. Every school offers multiple languages, including an Asian language, and all students are expected to demonstrate fluency in more than one language.
    • Curriculum is student-centered, authentic, globally significant, and connected to real audiences. Students engage in solving real-world, internationally important problems and present their solutions to experts. They are empowered to make decisions about what and how they learn.
    • Global learning extends beyond the classroom. Students participate in service learning and internships that immerse them in local and global issues, expose them to professional opportunities, and prepare them as global citizens. They also participate in simulations, such as Model United Nations, and have opportunities to hone their language skills and gain appreciation for differing perspectives through travel, student exchanges, and international learning partnerships.
    • Teacher professional development is high priority. Teacher teams have dedicated time to develop curriculum, look at student work, and refine their teaching practice together.

    One of the key ways that Asia Society supports the ISSN teachers and students in meeting this ISSN Graduate Profile is through the Graduation Performance System (GPS), a performance-based and data-driven system of curriculum, instruction, and assessment that enables teachers to teach for the deeper learning skills embodied in global competence while ensuring that students meet nationally required Common Core State Standards (CCSS).


    As noted above, the International Studies Schools Network serves as the laboratory in which we pilot and refine our teaching and assessment methods. The Graduation Performance System (GPS) has already been piloted and refined and is now being implemented. However, we have other innovations that remain in the piloting phase. Within the ISSN and using the GPS as the methodology and mechanism, we are currently piloting two innovative initiatives. These innovations are currently in process and are only open to ISSN members.

    Mastery- Based Systems

    Educators and school systems throughout the country are striving to integrate and utilize exciting new policies and teaching strategies to personalize learning and enable students to progress upon mastery of competencies. We are working with several schools within our International Studies Schools Network to utilize the Graduation Performance System (GPS) as the foundation for a mastery-based system.

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    Global Leadership Badges 

    Badges provide a clear way for an individual to represent a skill or competency he or she has mastered and allow teachers and potential employers to better understand a candidate’s level of proficiency in the required skills. Currently, we are working to create a badging system that is aligned to the Graduation Performance system through which students within the International Studies Schools Network can demonstrate their achievement of the GPS Global Leadership Performance Outcomes.

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    Get Involved

    If you are interested in learning more about the International Studies Schools Network and how to get involved, please contact Lisa Tyrrell at [email protected]