The vast majority of existing school districts have tried to improve their performance with much less disruptive changes including extra tutoring, building stronger relationships with students, and setting higher standards. One can improve measures such as test scores and graduation rates this way, but it still leaves students unprepared for the job market they will face today. Gallup reports that 90% of business leaders say that college graduates do not have the skills they need to be successful today.
Nevertheless, a few school districts are moving toward more authentic, student-directed learning experiences. Today, these efforts are mostly small pilots or modest changes, but the best are achieving good to great results. The following will highlight some representative examples.
North Dakota Statewide Initiative
Let us start with this commitment from the North Dakota Education Department to implement Deeper Learning in their high schools over the next several years. This is real leadership! As with several others, they were inspired by the film “Most Likely to Succeed.”
North Dakota has made significant progress, including passing very innovative legislation that gives school districts the flexibility to modernize their learning.
Albamarle County Public Schools, VA
A district that gets a lot of recognition, for good reason, is Albamarle County Public Schools in Virginia. This diverse county-wide district has encouraged and supported their schools and teachers to make bold changes. Presented here are four videos. The first highlights how the district is using Maker Spaces to make learning more authentic and engage kids. The second shows how the district initiated an even bolder project-based pilot in one of its high schools, again after seeing the film “Most Likely to Succeed.” The third and fourth talk about the journey to high quality project based learning in an elementary school and a high school.
Lindsay Unified School District, CA
Lindsay is a small, very poor, rural school district in central California. Nevertheless, they have made one of the most ambitious commitments I have seen to transform education. In the first video below, the superintendent tells their story: openly acknowledging the failures of the traditional education system, talking about how they organized their community to develop e new vision for learning, and citing examples of how they have eliminated old industrial age structures and are creating a new learner-centered, performance-driven system. The second, shorter video highlights comments from both students and teachers about the changes and their enthusiastic reception of them. Note that, while Lindsay is taking on greater change than the vast majority of districts, the benefits are so strong that they create the energy needed to drive the changes.
Winton Woods City Schools (Cincinnati, OH)
Winton Woods City Schools is a small, high poverty district in the Cincinnati area. They have long had equity and progress issues, but in the last few years they have made great progress by adopting student-directed, project-based learning district wide.
Chesterfield Co Public Schools (Richmond, VA)
Chesterfield Co Public Schools is a large district (60,000 students) in Richmond, VA that is following a systematic process to engage the community in transforming education for modern learners. They talk about project-based learning, blended learning, and service learning. However, over time all of these techniques will likely merge into a student-centered, inquiry-based approach that adapts to each student.
South Fayette Township School District
Here is an example of a what a small suburban school district outside of Pittsburgh is doing under the banner of computational thinking and making.