Future of Learning

Schools don’t have to reinvent the wheel

Organizations that share proven models with many schools could increase the pace of innovation

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Schools all across the country face similar challenges: gaps in achievement, student absenteeism, diminishing student interest in school from one grade to the next, out-of-school trauma that affects the way students learn, and the list goes on. But while these challenges are shared, many schools attack them as though they are facing them alone. They develop unique solutions to common problems.

New Schools Venture Fund is among the organizations trying to support a different path. The venture philanthropy firm funds “model providers” that have not only come up with solutions that seem to work but also want to help other schools adopt them, too. Model providers include schools and companies that want to export successful elements of a program or entire school designs. The model provider, for New Schools Venture Fund, must truly partner with schools to improve learning by offering the instructional resources, technology tools and teacher supports that will help schools actually do that.

Organizations that helped spread Maria Montessori’s vision for school design are early examples of model providers. A more recent heavy-hitter in this space is Summit Learning, which offers an online platform and a self-paced curriculum for students in grades four through 12 and has been adopted by more than 380 schools nationwide.

Scott Benson, managing partner of New School Venture Fund’s Innovative Schools team, pointed to the Valor charter network in Nashville as a promising new example. Valor, which operates two middle schools and a high school, is particularly known for its focus on social and emotional learning. It created a human development model for teachers and students called the Compass and is now working to export it to other schools around the country.

“That’s a highly successful school taking a subset of what they’ve done and packaging it to get it to others in the field,” Benson said.

An example of a model provider trying to export an entire school design is Teton Science Schools. The independent school serves students in pre-K through 12th grade in Jackson, Wyoming, and Teton Valley, Idaho, through a “place-based education” model. This type of education uses elements of the local culture and geography to personalize the learning experiences for students. Teton Science Schools’ model also prioritizes interdisciplinary studies, inquiry-based lessons and putting local lessons in a global context. It created the Place Network to help other rural schools all over the country implement its model, tailored to their particular context.

New Classrooms is another New Schools Venture Fund model provider that, like Summit, is becoming a veteran in a relatively fledgling field. Its model, called Teach to One: Math, offers schools a new method of math instruction through a personalized, self-paced online program for grades five through 11.

Joel Rose, co-founder and CEO of New Classrooms, said his team had searched for 9,000 individual math lessons to build its program. They looked at 80,000 lessons during this search, he said, selecting 7,000 they decided were the best fit; from there, they created new lessons to fill the gap.

It was a massive, years-long effort few schools could dream of making with an internal curriculum redesign.

That’s one reason why Benson and the New Schools Venture Fund consider model providers to be a powerful way to extend educational innovation – not the only way, but an important one.

“Rather than having to reinvent the wheel every time, if a school really sees a model out there that meets their needs, it makes a lot of sense for them to adopt it,” Benson said. “It saves the cost and energy associated with trying to build something from scratch while they’re also trying to operate a school and teach students.”

This story about sharing new learning models was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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Tara García Mathewson

Tara García Mathewson is a staff writer. She launched her journalism career with two award-winning pieces co-produced during a three-month stint at the Kitsap Sun… See Archive

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