All children can attain high academic standards and vary only in the time they need and ways they learn best.
Most Americans are familiar with the Little Red Schoolhouse of 19th century lore -- built and supported by the sweat of the community, it educated every child well. As attractive as this memory is, much of it is a myth. The truth is that although the Little Red Schoolhouse educated some children very well, it did not work well for every student. Many students left the schools when they became old enough to work in a largely industrial and agrarian society. At that time in our history, this trend made little difference because we were a society that did not need vast numbers of highly educated people.
Today, the United States needs vast numbers of highly educated people in an increasingly complex economic and technological society. The Hudson Institute, with the support of the New American Schools Development Corporation, is trying to marry the attractive features of the 19th century schoolhouse to the economic and education realities of America in the 21st century through a new conception called The Modern Red Schoolhouse. Hansberry Academy, a public school in the Bronx, is one of six elementary schools in three states already up and running with the concept. These schools will be joined by two middle school and one high school in the fall of 1994.
The Modern Red Schoolhouse attempts to unite a rigorous traditional curriculum with modern technologies to provide an excellent education for all students -- at costs no higher than costs in regular school programs. It emphasizes world-class standards in core curriculum areas; comprehensive staff training; self-paced learning and individual education contracts for every student, along with flexible daily and yearly schedules; mastery examinations; parental and community involvement; and character building as an integral component in all aspects of schooling.
The Modern Red House Schoolhouse -- including those sites such as Hansberry Elementary in New York and other sites in Indiana, North Carolina and Arizona, is built on six basic tenets, "pillars of reform:"
These principles, easy to state, are difficult to make real. The Modern Red Schoolhouse design team is trying to implement them in a number of ways. The design calls for replacing today's yardstick for learning, such as the Carnegie unit, (essentially a measure of seat time) with a new Hudson unit that makes time a variable and acknowledges that students will be considered to have achieved academic success when they demonstrate mastery of the knowledge and skills set forth in Modern Red Schoolhouse standards. These new curriculum units, although having to address a common set of standards, are being developed independently by teachers at each of the design sites -- and shared electronically among the sites.
Hansberry Elementary offers after-school programs to meet student needs, in collaboration with local community development groups. In the fall of 1994, the design team hopes to encourage greater parental involvement with, and volunteer support for, the Modern Red Schoolhouse sites. Hansberry is planning a new mentoring program to help students with the new Hudson units.
At Beech Grove Middle School, Beech Grove, Indiana, the Modern Red Schoolhouse design will implement block scheduling to help break the rigid, lock-step of today's schedule. It also plans to bring in part-time teachers to free up the regular teaching staff for planning and professional development time.
So far, parents appear to like what they see. A parent in Columbus, Indiana, watched with surprise as a sixth grader answered a younger sibling's question about atoms by drawing a detailed diagram to explain neutrons and electrons. Said another, "This is gifted and talented education for all children."
For additional information:
The Modern Red Schoolhouse
P.O. Box 26-919
Indianapolis, IN 46226