Thursday, December 17, 2009

Don’t force your child to fit in at school. Find a school to fit your child.

Anyone who has or works with children knows that we have a huge crises in education and it has nothing to do with test scores. Our students are literally bored to tears in disconnected schools that kill their creativity, force them to power down as soon as they pass through the school doors and are completely disconnected from their passions, talents, and interests. In many cases these are students who are bright and gifted but struggling in school in some cases to the point of being medicated (see highlighted portion of previous link) so that they can survive the day and fit into an environment they find boring and/or irrelevant. Sadly in many cases rather than fix the boring schools, we try to fix the bored child. This often leaves parents in deep despair and children and teachers frustrated and feeling stuck in their situation accepting this as “the way things are.”

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. There is help. There is a solution. And, it’s a little out of the box.

Get your child to a school that fits him or her…however you can. This is not as difficult as it may sound at first blush. There is a growing recognition that many schools are outdated relics from the past that sit awkwardly in a 21st century world. In response to this, there are pockets of educators, schools, even systems around the world that are rising up to the challenge of educating the 21st century child rather than the current industrial model of education that is pervasive in most schools. In fact a new batch of schools has just cropped up in New York City designed specifically for students who have zoned out in the traditional system.

The iZone schools have been specifically developed to challenge the following assumptions about current practice:
  • Schools are comprised of similarly-operated classroom units in which one adult delivers content to a room of between 12 and 34 students, for a set number of minutes per day and days per year
  • Adults dictate a course of study to children, who receive and process information for adults to evaluate
  • As part of one job, teachers manage classroom organizations; research and deliver content; differentiate the course of study according to student needs; assess performance; and deliver feedback
  • Special education students are best grouped and planned for according to class size requirements

These schools recognize the problem which they define as such.
  • Since 2002, the number of New York City students graduating from high school has increased every year, and more students than ever before are headed to college. The fact that a full third of our youth still do not graduate from high school, however, is a call to action. And that of those who enroll in college, only 50% graduate from four year colleges within six years and only 28% graduate from associate programs within the same time frame, is a call to change. (Statistics are from public school graduates who enroll in CUNY colleges)
  • Today’s schools are structured for an industrial model that is increasing obsolete to the 21st century knowledge economy where students will spend their working lives. The foundation of education has in many ways remained unchanged in that it assumes that information and skills must be provided only by adults who are physically in the same room as learners, performing jobs defined in the 19th century, on a notably rigid and brief daily schedule ]
  • In today’s schools, students are grouped in ways that do not maximize the potential of each and every student to personalize their learning.

The schools strive to address the problem with this powerful vision.
  • Transform our schools from a traditional, industrial model to one that reflects and embodies 21st century skills, tools, and experiences, so that our students graduate ready for success in college and in the workforce, regardless of race, language or socioeconomic background.
  • Personalize each student’s learning experience to meet their diverse and individual needs to the maximum feasible extent.

The Innovation Zone has adopted an approach of launching schools that embody a set of innovations that can be evaluated for scaling potential. The core innovations are:
  • Expand student learning time, stretching the school day and the school year without adding teacher work time
  • Optimize a match between individual student learning needs, learning modalities, content and instructional resources through an algorithmic engine
  • Blend distance and online coursework modules and personalized learning management systems into a brick and mortar environment in ways that allow students to differentiate their pace of learning
  • Apply gaming theory to standards-based content, creating challenge-based curriculum and an instant feedback and assessment loop
  • Create job embedded teacher teams as a vehicle for teacher organization and adult learning

If you're reading this and wondering how many thousands of dollars need to be dished out for parents to send their children to such schools, the answer is not a cent. In fact, schools like these have innovative leaders at the helm who believe that the fundamental right of children and responsibility of public education is to provide every child with the opportunity to attend the best schools. These leaders believe that in fact regardless of background or SES You Can Get a Dalton Education at a NYC Public School.

If you are curious What a 21st Century School Might Look Like here is a sampling of the iZone schools. You can see videos about each school here.

  • Quest to Learn - Design and innovation are at the heart of Quest to Learn (Q2L), a school committed to helping every student to achieve excellence in the skills and literacies necessary for college and career readiness. The school believe that students today can and do learn in different ways, often through interaction with digital media and games. Q2L builds on this belief to create a nurturing and vibrant 6th-12th grade school environment that supports all students in the pursuit of academic excellence, social responsibility, respect for others, and a passion for lifelong learning.
  • iSchool - The NYC iSchool has taken a problem-based learning approach to education. Teachers collaborate on thought provoking topics to integrate into the classroom while ensuring they still meet state mandated subjects and testing standards. Students learn in the context of real world problems, and just like the real world, they have access to a host of technology and information anytime, anywhere, and from anyplace. The NYC iSchool is leading the way in creating a culture in education that truly engages students with successful results.
  • The Cinema School - The Cinema School is an academic high school that prepares students for top level colleges through a liberal arts education grounded in creative activity. They emphasize filmmaking because it deepens students’ learning while building confidence, responsibility and leadership. Our curriculum helps students become stronger thinkers and develop the skills needed to accomplish great things. Admission to The Cinema School is competitive no film making experience necessary.
  • The School of One - The mission of School of One is to provide students with personalized, effective, and dynamic classroom instruction so that teachers have more time to focus on the quality of their instruction. To achieve this mission, School of One re-imagines the traditional classroom model. Instead of one teacher and 25-30 students in a classroom, each student participates in multiple instructional modalities, including a combination of teacher-led instruction, one-on-one tutoring, independent learning, and work with virtual tutors. To organize this type of learning, each student receives a unique daily schedule based on his or her academic strengths and needs. As a result, students within the same school or even the same classroom can receive profoundly different instruction as each student’s schedule is tailored to the skills they need and the ways they best learn. Teachers acquire data about student achievement each day and then adapt their live instructional lessons accordingly.

There are schools like these cropping up around the globe. Parents, students, and educators need to start voting with their feet, not as they are currently doing by leaving the school system with high school drop out rates above 50% in many cities, but by investigating what schools will suit the needs of their 21st century learning and teaching styles and then figuring out how to attend or work in such environments. The schools are hungry for innovative educators and students who will thrive in these new environments. Now parents, go find the right school for your child and teachers who are frustrated by their outdated employment situation, start connecting with these school leaders. They're looking for you.


  1. Thank you for another thought-provoking post. I am interested in hearing about any model schools out there that target the younger students in grades 1 -5 who exhibit ADHD-type behaviours, or who are simply physical by nature. I have often thought that there must be a better school model that meets the needs of these types of students and doesn't work against their natural behaviour. I really feel for these students who must feel like they are caught in a cage each day.

  2. @Anonymous, you are welcome and thank you for this great question.

    I agree with you. From my personal experience as a young and eternal student, I can tell you I did feel caught in a cage. What a terrific analogy.

    To answer your question, my best general answer is to find a school implementing the Schoolwide Enrichment Model. To give you an idea of what this means, I wrote about one such school in NYC here The model focuses on building on student strength and helping every student explore their passions and talents. Its roots are in addressing the needs of "gifted" students, but it turns out it applies to all students once we realize that gifts are expressed in a variety of ways. Here is my intro post about the whole concept during my visit to their yearly conference ( I highly recommend pushing any educator (if you are a parent, share with your child’s teacher) to attend, and parents (though not the target audience) would learn a lot too. You can read about SEM here and there is a directory (though not at all complete) of schools here

    I wish you the very best of luck and hope you’ll share your progress.

  3. Thank you for this online plethora of examples of success. I am excited to read about your experience with Renzulli learning, as we have purchased it for PS 145! We're ready to take flight and join the students as they "power up" when they walk through our doors.

  4. Like anonymous I am interested in learning about those schools that are helping the lower grades. Especially the PreK and Kgn students. How does a parent who has limits in their life find a school for the energetic, aspiring 4 or 5 year old that will keep him interested in learning and achieving goals that he doesn't even know exist?