<< The Body Politic

The relationship school

Monday, March 26th, 2012

In last Friday’s New York Times, columnist David Brooks profiled the New American Academy, a public elementary school in Brooklyn that opened in the fall of 2010. The Academy uses a unique model developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education that pairs a large classroom of 60 students with four instructors, led by a master teacher. As Brooks writes, “The students are generally in three clumps in different areas working on different activities. The teachers, especially the master teacher who is floating between the clumps, are on the move, hovering over one student, then the next. It is less like a factory for learning and more like a postindustrial workshop, or even an extended family compound.”

He continues:

Like the Waldorf schools, teachers move up with the same children year after year. Like Hogwarts, students are grouped into Houses. Like Phillips Exeter Academy, students are less likely to sit at individual desks than around big tables or areas for teacher-led discussions.

The students seem to do a lot more public speaking, with teachers working hard to get them to use full sentences and proper diction. The subjects in the early grades (the only ones that exist so far) are interdisciplinary, with a bias toward engineering: how flight, agriculture, transportation and communications systems work. The organizational structure of the school is flattened. Nearly everybody is pushed to the front lines, in the classroom, and salaries are higher (master teachers make $120,000 a year).

The New American Academy takes a different approach than the other exciting new education model, the “No Excuses” schools like Kipp Academy. New American is less structured. That was a problem at first, but Waronker says the academy has learned to get better control over students, and, on the day I visited, the school was well disciplined through the use of a bunch of subtle tricks.

The school is now just in its second year so it’s too early to talk about results, but, as Brooks points out, it is a “great experiment, one of many now bubbling across the world of education.” These experiments are worth following and paying attention to as they have the potential to rethink public education–and with it, civic education, as Cheryl Miller and Robin Lake point out in their report, Strengthening the Civic Mission of Charter Schools.