It’s easy to spend a lot of time on what’s wrong with education—and there’s a place for that. Identifying problems can lead us to solutions.
But another crucial part of the conversation needs to be discussing schools that have already found solutions—and how can they be replicated. By looking to successful schools, we see 1) that success IS possible, 2) where our techniques/systems are falling short, 3) multiple methods of moving beyond our status quo.
So today let’s look at a few schools that are getting it right.
KIPP Empower Academy, one of five public charter schools in KIPP LA’s South and East Los Angeles network, was scheduled to open in the fall of 2010. Based on high standards and low student-teacher ratios, leaders and faculty were excited about what was in store for their 116 kindergarten students. According to their case study, 98% of students are African American or Latino, 92% qualified for free or reduced lunch, and 8% were classified as special needs.
Then funds were cut. To operate within their new budget, class sizes had to be increased to 28-1. That’s a lot of 5-year-olds per adult. It was then that school founder and principal Mike Kerr made the decision that KIPP Empower would be a blended school.
By putting computer stations in each classroom and rotating students from small group instruction to the computers for each core subject, Kerr ensured that student-teacher ratios would be 14-1 or better.
KIPP Empower is committed to preparing their “scholars” from the earliest grades “to lead lives of significance, to be critical thinkers, to be leaders, and to be on a trajectory that maximizes their potential,” says Kerr.
The important question is, of course, does it work? Innovation for its own sake isn’t worth anything. It only counts if students learn. Many of the blended schools we hear about are middle and high schools. Can it work for the earliest grades? The results speak for themselves. After one year at KIPP Empower, 96% of students scored at or above average on the nationally norm MAP test in Reading and Math, with 58% in the top quartile in Math and 68% in the top quartile in Reading.
Carpe Diem is a network of online and blended public schools serving grades 6-12, started in Yuma, AZ. Their methods revolve around the fact that today’s students are comfortable with and skilled in the use of technology. Maximizing both this fact and the capabilities of online learning, they’ve created a rigorous and relevant public school experience that meets students’ needs.
At the heart of Carpe Diem’s facility is the “learning center,” equipped with 300 cubicles containing computer stations. Students split their time between independent online learning and hands-on, teacher-led “workshops.” Teachers review data from their students’ online coursework daily, and the data enable them to identify students’ needs and intervene immediately when a student struggles.
Like many blended schools, Carpe Diem places much value on the personal relationship between teachers and students. Unlike many schools, however, Carpe Diem reinforces this relationship by giving students the same teachers for each subject throughout all six years at the school.
But, again, the process and model (inputs) are meaningless if we’re not getting results (output), right? Well, Carpe Diem is. In fact, their results are outstanding. Carpe Diem’s student demographics are nearly identical to the rest of their district, yet their test scores exceed the district’s by approximately 25 percent. Additionally, Carpe Diem spends $4,000 less per student than national expenses.
Many schools claim to “personalize” or “customize” education, but rarely does this goal permeate the academic program, teaching, technology, and even architecture to the extent that you will find in any KED Network school.
Kunskapsskolan operates 34 schools in Sweden and contracts with 3 schools in the United Kingdom. In 2011, Innovate Manhattan Charter School became the first state-side school to offer the KED program.
In their own words, ““The purpose of the school is to be a greenhouse for learning and development. The center of this objective is the student — not as a collective, anonymous group just clustered by age, but as individuals, with capabilities, ambitions and personalities.”
Upon entering a KED Network school, each student’s academic level is assessed. Next, a working plan comprised of short-term and medium term goals is written, and “strategies” are drafted.
Students have ownership of their plan and their time. KED considers this an important part of the learning process.
Kunskapsskolan writes, “The most important assets for student success are skilled teachers with the time and capability to teach, coach and support the learning process.” Coaching sessions happen at least once a week but can take place daily, as needed.
In addition to teachers, Kunskapsskolan employs a team of more than 30 who work exclusively on research and development.
The “Learning Portal”, an online platform, houses students’ learning materials so they can access their studies anytime, anywhere, removing the distinction between schoolwork and homework.
Additionally, using the Learning Portal, students, teachers, and parents can view student progress in real time, instead of being surprised by learning outcomes.
The Learning Portal also provides a platform for teachers to collaborate. By sharing information, teachers can spend more time with students and less time recreating materials another teacher might have already written.
Even the curriculum at Kunskapsskolan is designed for maximum personalization. Courses are organized into “step” or “thematic” courses, with step courses providing “academic depth, perspective and opportunities to advance your knowledge” and thematic courses designed for “context and breadth.”
But does it work? Absolutely. Kunskapsskolan schools achieve excellent results.
There are many more schools worthy of careful study and imitation. Success is possible, and we deprive students of quality educational opportunities when we don’t look outside the box at existing solutions.
Please respond in the comments section with suggestions of excellent schools—or chime in on Facebook. This dialogue is too important to end here.