The Education Innovator #44
Volume III
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The Education Innovator
 December 8, 2005 • Number 44
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What's inside...
EdVisions Schools, Minnesota
What's New
Innovations in the News

EdVisions Provides New Vision for Charter Schools
Reed Floren owns an e-commerce business that gives stock advice to over 1,600 clients. His website includes a stock market forum, a chat room, and a series of articles which provide an overview of basic fiscal matters. This growing business is not the product of a recent graduate of a top MBA program, but of an 18-year-old high school student who recently graduated from the Minnesota New Country School. Reed created his e-business as part of his school's groundbreaking curriculum that replaces 45-minute courses, bells, and traditional lectures with a research-intensive educational program that allows students to choose and develop research projects structured around the individual student's academic interests and needs. The Minnesota New Country School is an innovative charter high school that operates within the EdVisions Cooperative.

The EdVisions Cooperative is one of three entities under EdVisions, Inc. "EdVisions Schools" facilitates the development of new learning communities; the "EdVisions Cooperative" is a network of the EdVisions school sites in Minnesota, which sets policies and operates much like a school system; and the" EdVisions Leaders Center" conducts a graduate studies program for principal licensing, as well as staff development for new EdVisions Schools.

EdVisions, Inc., and its components emerged from the development of the Minnesota New Country School, which was started in 1992 when the area's local high school joined with the larger, impersonal high school in the neighboring community. After the merger, students expressed dissatisfaction with their general learning environment, and 70 percent dubbed their school, "not a good place to be." This negative feedback became the impetus for a new type of school—one that would integrate increased student choice with a superior education and that would abandon the uniform approach to education that severely limited the involvement of both students and teachers in the learning process. The result was the Minnesota New Country School—a pioneering educational initiative that broke the boundaries of traditional education.

Following a less structured school day, students at Minnesota New Country School work with teachers, renamed "advisors," to create multidisciplinary projects. Students identify topics that pique their interest, while teachers/advisors ensure each project meets an interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary standard. The teachers/advisors help pupils work through obstacles, push them to develop intellectual skills and capabilities, and ensure their advisees are intellectually stimulated and challenged by their chosen projects. This learning and interaction occurs at both the one-on-one and the group levels. In an environment reminiscent of a one-room schoolhouse, students are grouped by abilities and interests, not grade level. Individuals concentrating on the same skills learn together to increase efficiency and maximize their progress.

This less structured learning environment allows the school to maintain an emphasis on individual progress and scholarship. While all students spend approximately 1,000 hours per year on their individual projects (about 100 hours per project with 10 projects per year) in order to graduate in four years, the duration of each project and the time given to complete it are flexible. This flexibility encourages students to explore the full scale of their academic interests without limiting the scope of their intellectual inquiry or sacrificing the overall quality of their work. Encouragement of individual creativity and promotion of academic excellence has resulted in a broad array of projects that range from entrepreneurial initiatives like Reed Floren's e-business to scientific inquiries into pollution and its relationship to mutations in the local frog population. In maintaining this same theme of individual progress, graduation for seniors depends upon the completion of a senior-level research project that is neither defined by a certain amount of class time nor a specific number of credits.

While Minnesota New Country School was originally created to allow greater student autonomy, its founder, Doug Thomas, did not limit himself to this original vision. When presented with a plan to increase teacher involvement in the learning process, Thomas leaped at the opportunity to experiment with another way of improving education while erasing bureaucracy. Conventionally, teachers are employees of the school system who administer services to their students. Under the EdVisions approach at the Minnesota New Country School, a new system gives teachers a "proprietor's stake" in the success and general welfare of the school, eliminating the traditional teacher-principal hierarchy in favor of a more democratic system. The teachers act in place of the administrator and collectively make all decisions about the curriculum and general governance of the school.

The implementation of the EdVisions approach has brought positive results. In 2005, the Minnesota New Country School not only made adequate yearly progress, but also boasted aggregate ACT scores higher than the national average and student and parent satisfaction rates of over 90 percent. The success of the EdVisions educational program has led to the replication of its model at sites around the country. Two grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with funding of close to $9 million have enabled the founder to expand the EdVisions model to 27 public charter schools with eight more to be developed in the next two years.

Serving approximately 2,300 students in 25 schools (100 per school), the EdVisions model has continued to demonstrate results at a wide variety of locations. EdVisions schools typically serve students who have transferred from a variety of local schools. Many of these students chose to attend an EdVisions school because they were not progressing in their previous learning environment. As a result, many begin the EdVisions' education program with reading and math skills that are well below grade level. While these students' scores start out very low, students participating in the EdVisions program have consistently experienced high levels of academic growth. At Harbor City International in Duluth, Minnesota, for example, according to a Gates/EdVisions study, 70 percent of the ninth graders and 40 percent of the tenth graders scored at least two full grade levels above the national averages on standardized tests after the school's second year in operation.

In addition to these traditional benchmarks of growth, students at EdVisions schools benefit from an infusion of confidence and an increase of self-esteem. The HOPE Index, a survey that measures how students feel about their own capabilities, repeatedly shows marked gains for students enrolled in EdVisions' schools. According to Ron Newell, the Learning Program Director and a teacher at the Minnesota New Country School, "[The schools] are taking kids who don't feel like they have a chance for success and making them think…that they have a chance to do well." High HOPE scores have been shown to translate into success in college.

The EdVisions system is constantly expanding and opening up new sites. Currently, EdVisions schools are in nine states: California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin. To become an EdVisions school, applicants must visit the Minnesota New Country School. Here they gain first-hand experience with the original, project-based curriculum before they begin the lengthy application process. As Teresa Chance, the director of curriculum and instruction for the Cabot School District in Arkansas and an applicant for a new EdVisions school stated, "[This program] is different. It wouldn't work for every student. But that's the whole point. We're not ice-cube tray people in education; we're not made from the same mold. There's no one answer for education, but if it could help one student succeed, then we're doing what we need to be doing."

With its innovative educational program, EdVisions embraces the principle of school choice that allows students and parents to select the educational program that best fits the student to maximize the student's potential.

The Minnesota New Country School and other EdVisions charter schools have been supported with Charter School Assistance funds from their respective state departments of education. These funds are awarded to states through the federal Charter Schools Program administered by the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.

Resources: Note: The featured program is innovative; however, it does not have evidence of effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation.


What's New
From the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII)

The Teaching American History grant competition is now open. Teaching American History grants support projects to raise student achievement by improving teachers' knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of traditional American history. The deadline for the Notice of Intent to Apply is January 6, 2006, and the deadline to transmit applications is February 3, 2006. (Dec. 6)

OII has released a new brochure, School Choice for Student Success, which is available free in both English and Spanish. Copies may be ordered from ED Pubs. Order numbers are: EU 0150H (English) and EU 0151H (Spanish). (Nov. 20)

American History

Ball State University is distributing a free DVD to high schools across the country about the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment. The 60-minute DVD has an introduction to the Constitution, a panel discussion with journalists and Constitution scholars, and results from a study of 112,000 high school students' attitudes about freedom and liberty. (Nov. 28)

Arts Education

The School of Visual Arts and the College of Music at the University of North Texas are jointly offering the graduate Priddy Fellowships in Arts Leadership download files PDF (117KB), in collaboration with the North Texas Institute for Educators of the Visual Arts. The program combines coursework, internships, and involvement with the institute to help fellows become advocates for arts education. Funded by the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust, fellowships include tuition and fees, an $18,000 stipend, and a travel allowance. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2006. (Nov. 25)

Teacher Quality and Development

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) has issued Using Student Progress to Evaluate Teachers: A Primer on Value-Added Models. The report is intended to aid interested parties who are considering using the value-added model statistical tool to hold teachers accountable for student achievement. (Oct. 2005)

Over 1,900 library, museum, and public broadcasting professionals gathered at 70 public television stations throughout the country on Nov. 30 to participate in a national videoconference to launch a series of online resources, including instructional webcasts. The conference is hosted by the Partnership for a Nation of Learners, an initiative of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. (Nov. 28)

The National Endowment for the Humanities will offer the NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes for School Teachers. Programs are from two to six weeks. NEH provides stipends that range from $1,800 to $4,200 to defray travel and living expenses. The deadline for applications is March 1, 2006. (Nov. 23)

Women's Educational Equity

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) has issued a report on Addressing Achievement Gaps: The Progress and Challenges of Women and Girls in Education and Work, which highlights research that was co-sponsored by the American Association for University Women and the National Council for Research on Women, as well as the ETS Achievement Gap Symposium on women's education. (Fall 2005)


C-SPAN, the cable television network that covers Capitol Hill events, is sponsoring a new website designed for middle and high school civics and government teachers. The site contains free access to lesson plans, standards-based video content, and primary source materials, which are aimed at helping students understand the federal government. C-SPAN also has announced its StudentCam contest that invites middle and high school students to compete for $25,000 in prizes by submitting short documentaries that explore a current issue of national concern. Entries are due by Feb. 28, 2006.


The Benwood Schools Initiative(TN) (see Innovator for Dec. 1, 2003) is making strides in closing the achievement gap. The Public Education Foundation reported that the nine elementary schools in the system were among the 20 lowest performing schools in Tennessee in 2000, but for the last three years, they have "outgained" about 90 percent of all schools in the state. (Nov. 22)


Innovations in the News

American History
Roanoke, Roanoke County, Salem, and Floyd County schools (VA) have been awarded a Teaching American History grant from OII to be used to immerse teachers in U.S. history and introduce them to new teaching techniques. The goal of the program is to raise student achievement in American history because the results on the Virginia Standards of Learning assessments in history have been lower than in other subjects—particularly in the era prior to 1877. [More-Roanoke Times] (Nov. 22)

A Teaching American History grant awarded to the Dutchess County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (NY) will be used for week-long summer seminars for teachers. The seminars will focus on national and regional history topics to include Henry Hudson, the history of democracy, the civil rights movement, and immigration. Participants will work with Marist College professors and will use documents from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library to conduct research and create lessons for their classes. [More-Poughkeepsie Journal] (Nov. 15)

Dr. Kathleen Carter, a High Point University history professor, has been conducting history workshops for local elementary, middle, and high school teachers as part of a Teaching American History program. The program, "Foundations First: Teaching American History," is funded by a grant from OII to the Davidson County, Lexington, and Thomasville (NC) school systems. Dr. Carter typically focuses on the political, economic, and social changes of an era she is teaching. For example, one recent unit topic has been "Jim Crow and Racial Violence in Late 19th and Early 20th Century North Carolina." [More-High Point University] (Nov. 8)

Charter Schools
Louisiana state lawmakers approved the state's takeover of most New Orleans public schools. The schools would be placed in a "Recovery District" to be operated by a university, a nonprofit group, or another independent organization as charter schools, or to be run by the State Department of Education. [Louisiana Governor Blanco, who backed the bill, has since signed it into law.] [More-WWLTV] (Nov. 22)

Public charter schools in the U.S. are serving a larger percentage of minority and low-income students than traditional public schools, according to a recent study from the National Charter School Research Project at the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs. "One of the driving forces behind charter schools has been parent demand for new options among groups that seemed to be less well-served by traditional schools," noted co-author Robin Lake. The study also reveals that charter schools are predominantly found in urban areas and that they are three times more likely than regular public schools to stray from the traditional grade divisions of elementary, middle, and high school, often serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. [More-NewsWise] (Nov. 21)

Closing the Achievement Gap
Eliminating the Achievement Gap, Inc., a grassroots community effort, is working to accelerate African American students' achievement in Frederick County (MD). In its second year, the program organizes events including community forums and a college night for minority students to learn about higher education. The group also partners with local community organizations on projects such as book drives for younger students. On December 17, there will be a forum for parents to learn about the new Maryland High School Assessment tests, which will begin in 2009. [More-Gazette]

Freeman Hrabowski III, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, spoke about his love of math during a town hall meeting in Ithaca (NY). He talked about his school's Meyerhoff Scholarship program for gifted minority students who plan to pursue doctorate degrees in engineering or science, saying, "We middle class Americans are not used to looking in the face of poverty and thinking brilliance." The meeting brought together community leaders to discuss closing the achievement gap for minorities, particularly in math, science, and engineering, and followed a state summit that school leaders from across New York state had attended. [More-Ithaca Journal] (Nov. 21)

Raising Student Achievement
More than one-third of Maryland middle school students take at least one high school level math course before they graduate from middle school. The rise of advanced middle school coursework is related to an increase in the amount of Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes offered in high school. Schools are currently expanding access to courses that have been typically reserved for the academic elite. In Maryland, of the 23,979 middle school students who took the state's High School Assessment in algebra last spring, 90 percent passed, according to the Maryland State Department of Education. [More-The Washington Post] (Nov. 21)

High school sophomores in Oregon whose academic performance does not correspond with their potential for success have a new incentive to attend college, due to a scholarship program administered through the Oregon Department of Education. The scholarships are aimed at economically disadvantaged students who will complete their sophomore year next spring. The State Department of Education will select seven high schools to participate, and the schools will select 10 students who need incentives. If the students graduate from high school and are accepted to college, they will receive a $4,000 scholarship. If they complete their freshman year, they will receive an additional $2,000 to help pay for college expenses. [More-The Oregonian] (Nov. 22)

Supplemental Educational Services
Although some parents of children in schools that have not made adequate yearly progress (AYP) can transfer their children to other schools, parents in Virginia tend to choose tutoring services over the transfer option. During the 2004-2005 academic year, 17.6 percent of students eligible for tutoring chose that option, while only 2.3 percent of eligible students transferred to new schools. A pilot program in Virginia now moves up the option for tutoring by a year, in response to this demand. When the school choice option was not practical for her child, one parent said about the program, "I don't think we can ever have enough of supplemental educational services." [More-Times Dispatch] (Nov. 1)


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Last Modified: 08/12/2009