U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos recently visited Colorado on her “Rethink School” Back to School Tour: a campaign focused on school innovation. Traditional education assumes every student to be the same, and offers few resources for those outside of its cookie-cutter ideal. Rethinking education is necessary to create a more comprehensive system that acknowledges the diversity of students’ interests, abilities, and learning styles.
Research strongly suggests that a learner-centered education is best. Technology has helped students personalize learning, but traditional education is slow to adapt.
Colorado is a leader of innovative options in public education. Salida del Sol Academy, Rocky Mountain Prep, and the Denver School of the Arts are three examples of schools which have embraced the need for change and created learner-centered and adaptive education models. They have structured their programs to fit the needs of their students through successful innovation.
After much opposition, and multiple attempts to create a dual-language school in the Greeley-Evans School District, Sailda del Sol Academy became the first dual-language program to successfully open in the Greeley community. At Salida del Sol, both Spanish and English-speaking students take half of their classes in their secondary language. Students also receive an individualized academic program which highlights their “learning style, primary language information, and student interests.”
Though Salida del Sol had a shaky start in its opening year, it’s improving rapidly and has a bright future on its horizon.
In the Denver-Metro Area lies Rocky Mountain Prep, a pre-kindergarten through fifth grade charter school. Students at Rocky Mountain Prep are prepared to succeed in college through an intensive curriculum, and scored the highest out of all elementary schools in Denver on the 2016 PARCC assessment.
At Rocky Mountain Prep, students spend half of their day in a “flexible learning environment.” They are encouraged to work independently and at their own pace. Pacing education at each learner’s tempo is vital to keeping students engaged. Innovative classes, such as blended learning or accelerated programs, move students at a customized rate, which helps them remain immersed in critical thinking.
Though founded in 1991, the relevance of the Denver School of the Arts has increased as the arts’ prominence has faded from traditional education programs. The Denver School of the Arts offers students with interest in the performing and visual arts the opportunity to develop their talent while receiving a complete traditional education.
Integrating students’ interests into their school day creates a more intellectually stimulating environment. As an avid musician myself, I would have been much more engaged in a program similar to the one offered by the Denver School of the Arts.
As a child I was a fast and independent learner, but my school lacked options for students with an accelerated learning ability and diverse interests. As I grew up I displayed advanced abilities in areas such as reading, sports, and music; however, my ability did not reflect in my school work.
In class I would solve a problem in two minutes, while the teacher’s explanation would often take ten. In that difference of eight minutes, my eyes would gloss over and my mind would drift. I would spend the time doodling, and come to at the snap of the teacher–only to start the process over again. Clearly, I was not engaged.
Now I attend San Diego State University where I am in the top portion of my class and I am very engaged in my education. I largely attribute my current academic success to maturation and mentors who have helped me develop good study skills, but I must also acknowledge my university’s learning environment. My university is adaptive, and it encourages me to explore my inspirations. The environment challenges me, but provides resources to complement my strengths and help me learn at my pace.
Schools which are tailored to the “average” student–not average solely in aptitude, but more so breadth of interest and learning style– neglect the invaluable part of education which is supposed to galvanize youth towards their own aspirations. Not a set of standards predetermined by the state. Successful innovative schools place student’s specific interests, learning style, and ambitions at the forefront of their education. In most other industries we expect constant innovation and a personalized product. Though education is one of our most important services, we exempt it from these standards.
Connan Houser is a student at San Diego State University and is currently a research associate with the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute.