"Reform that does not allocate actual time remains a barren expression of want."
When the New American Schools Development Corporation (NASDC) in 1991 invited "dreamers and doers from all walks of life... [to] assume that the schools we have inherited did not exist, and design an educational environment to bring every child... up to world-class standards," a team assembled by Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), Inc. accepted the challenge -- including the restriction that the new design should cost about the same as the inherited model. BBN specializes in large-scale applications of telecommunications technologies, and its team became one of 11 winning bidders in a NASDC competition that produced nearly 700 proposals.
BBN and its partners proposed to design a new educational environment, the Co-NECT School (the acronym is pronounced "connect" and stands for Cooperative Networked Educational Community for Tomorrow) which is now being implemented and tested in two schools, including Accelerated Learning Laboratory, before being "scaled up" nationwide, perhaps as early as 1995.
The Co-NECT concept and Accelerated Learning Laboratory both incorporate technologies as a critical design element. But the concept extends far beyond technology. The Co-NECT effort addresses the latest strategies of the national education reform movement -- national standards and the need for systemic (comprehensive) reform -- and it incorporates new thinking about performance assessment, student grouping strategies, staff development, and school-site management in its plans. Co-NECT, as it developed during a two-year planning phase, is, in the words of its designers:
at once systemic and flexible. The design is systemic in the sense that it views schools as complex systems, embedded in systems still more complex. Innovations in curriculum and instruction, assessment, school governance, professional development, and use of technology are seen as part of an interconnected process of change, involving all aspects of life in the school ... At the same time, the design is flexible in the sense that these connections are intentionally loose ... The local curriculum is informed by emerging national content and performance standards, but not dictated by them.
The Accelerated Learning Laboratory incorporates key elements of the Co-NECT design: a project-based curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary projects, meaningful products, and involvement in seminars and workshops; performance assessments organized around individual and school goals, with individual assessment tied to emerging standards in key content areas; multiage clustering of approximately 100 students and four or five teachers to encourage long-term relationships between teachers and students and their families; modern technologies to connect and integrate all features of the design, including supporting the project-based curriculum and linking the school community to a rich variety of local, national, and global learning tools; and school-based design engaging local communities.
The Co-NECT design is offered not as a template but as a continuing process of goal setting, evaluation, and reflection. Three questions lie at the heart of the process: Where do we want to be? Where are we now? How do we get there?
Schools interested in the design are asked to address many issues. One of them is scheduling: What does an average day (or week or year) look like in a Co-NECT school? How is time organized to accommodate projects, seminars, personal pursuits and other learning opportunities? The Co-NECT design team offers no final answers to questions such as these, but it does suggest some guidelines:
"Weaving these guidelines into the real lives of students, teachers and other adults is as important as reflecting educational priorities in the real world of educational budgeting," says the design team. "Unless and until they are translated into actual time allocated for the purposes claimed, they remain barren expressions of want."
For additional information:
Accelerated Learning Laboratory
93 Woodland Street
Worcester, MA 01610