Experimental schools that work

Experimental schools that work March 26, 2014

“Charter” and “Magnet” schools are designed to allow for alternative and experimental approaches to education in public school systems.  One approach is proving especially popular with parents and children and is outperforming peer institution in test scores and other measures of academic achievement.

In these experimental programs, students stay in one classroom with one teacher, who teaches objective content, holds to high academic standards, requires daily homework, and enforces discipline.  (How could that possibly work?)  The schools that are using this method call it TRADITIONAL education.

From Michael Alison Chandler, ‘Traditional’ Va. schools find themselves in high demand as they eschew experimentation – The Washington Post.

In the freewheeling world of educational philosophies, “traditional” magnet schools hold an unusual place, offering an alternative education that is not intended to be new or different. Many espouse high standards, with a close focus on academics and strict behavior and dress codes.

The model is highly sought after in Northern Virginia, which now has at least three other traditional schools, including one in Alexandria and two in Prince William County.

Arlington Traditional opened in 1978 at the urging of a group of parents who were wary of the experimentation flourishing in public schools, including trends in open-space architecture, multi-grade-level classes and team teaching.

The school promotes self-contained classrooms, where students have one teacher for all their core subjects, as well as daily homework, Friday assemblies and weekly progress reports. All students are expected to begin learning a musical instrument in fourth grade and join the safety patrol in fifth grade. Beyond that, the school offers the same curriculum as other neighborhood schools in Arlington.

Last spring, 298 families applied for 72 slots.

Traditional magnet schools have opened up across the country with varying attributes and goals, said Scott Thomas, executive director of Magnet Schools of America, an advocacy group.

Some common themes include behavior and dress codes, high academic expectations, a strict focus on the core subjects of math, reading, science and social studies, and a more teacher-directed approach.

Such distinctions are not as extraordinary as they might once have seemed. Standards-based reform and test-based accountability systems have raised expectations and narrowed the academic focus in many schools. Many charter schools and public schools, particularly in the inner city, have adopted uniforms, behavior codes or parent contracts. . . .

The federal government has twice named Arlington Traditional a National Blue Ribbon School for its academic performance. And its students routinely outscore district averages on the Standards of Learning tests.

Pennington School opened 14 years ago in Manassas as a first- through-eighth-grade magnet school with uniforms, a behavior code, and an emphasis on character education and community service. The concept was so popular that in 2004, Prince William opened Mary G. Porter Traditional School in Woodbridge to serve students on the eastern side of the county.

The county’s school board named both traditional programs “Schools of Excellence” this year for exceeding state testing goals and other performance measures. For the current school year, Pennington had 368 applications for 94 available slots. Porter had well over 600 applications for slightly more seats.

“Traditional” education is not necessarily the same as “classical” education.  The curriculum at these traditional schools is pretty much the same as that of the rest of the school district.  The methods are what is different, moving away from the “child-directed” classroom in which everybody is moving from place to place playing educational games.  Classical schools have a more substantive curriculum, as well as more substantive teaching.  But still. . . .

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