Will the Future of Education Be Defined by These Schools?
The U.S. school system gets a lot of criticism.
School districts regularly make the news for high dropout rates, low graduation rates and inadequate funding. There’s a lot of work to be done, and it won’t happen overnight.
But a growing number of schools deserve recognition and celebration for thinking outside of the box and teaching students in ways to better equip them for entering the workplace and innovating within it – and dealing with life in general.
Here are 14 of the most innovative schools in the U.S. right now.
Brightworks, San Francisco
Brightworks began as an idea in the mind of Gever Tulley, author of “Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)” and creator of the Tinkering School.
Tulley wondered why school wasn’t more like summer camp, decided there was no reason it couldn’t be, and in 2011 he set about creating a day school program combining the best elements of summer camp, preschool and graduate school.
The result was Brightworks, which is set in a huge warehouse and provides kids from preschool to grade 12 with endless opportunities for creative learning – art equipment, forts, makeshift theaters – based on the theory that responsible engagement with danger (students literally play with fire) under controlled, supervised conditions is an important part of learning.
Star School, Flagstaff, Arizona
The award-winning Star School is the first public elementary school in the U.S. to get 100 percent of its energy from solar power.
Named as one of the “Coolest Schools in America” by Parent & Child magazine, Star School serves students from preschool through eighth grade, primarily from the Navajo region. The curriculum is influenced by Navajo culture, focusing on the tradition of valuing relationships, teaching the four Rs – Respect, Relationship, Responsibility and Reasoning – and recognizing the histories of indigenous communities, which are often whitewashed in public schools.
Limited class sizes means kids get plenty of one-to-one time with teachers.
THINK Global School, New York City
The “world’s first traveling high school” and Apple Distinguished School, THINK Global School takes its students around the world, giving them the chance to live and learn in four countries a year, learning the language and working with local experts to understand the country from historical, cultural and socioeconomic perspectives.
The 2019/2020 program includes semesters in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Peru, Australia and Italy. The unique Changemaker Curriculum encourages students to become informed global citizens poised to make a real difference in the world, by combining project-based learning with exacting academic standards.
Clintondale High School, Clinton Township, Michigan
Clintondale High School, which serves mostly low-income students of color, is an example of a school that recognized its education model wasn’t working and took drastic action to make changes for the better.
In 2010, it flipped the traditional system of lectures in class and homework at home, giving students pre-recorded lectures to watch after school (on a range of platforms, including the school website, and YouTube) and doing their homework during school hours.
This lets teachers work one-on-one with students on their “homework,” developing critical analysis and higher-order thinking skills. The school’s increased test scores and student engagement levels, and decreased disciplinary actions, prove that it works.
FirstLine Schools, New Orleans
FirstLine has a total of six open admissions public schools in New Orleans, a mixture of preschool through high school. Each stage gives students hands-on experience gardening, cooking and selling their own produce in local farmers markets.
Through its largest signature program, Edible Schoolyard New Orleans (ESYNOLA), FirstLine serves thousands of students, their families and school communities each year through hands-on kitchen and garden classes and special education events.
There’s also a Personalized Learning Project, which lets students spend up to 20 percent of their school day learning at their own pace, on computers and in small groups.
e3 Civic High School, San Diego, California
Founded in response research revealing that 50 percent of downtown high school students traveled to other parts of San Diego to learn, e3 Civic High gives students from low income families in San Diego project-based learning and extensive research resources from its base within the New San Diego Central Library.
The school’s primary aim is to prepare students for college, employment and life. Each student gets a MacBook Air for the academic year and academic support four days a week. Students get the opportunity to study abroad, and in their senior year they can spend several days a week at internships of their choice.
Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), New York City
P-TECH prides itself on being the only U.S. school to connect high school, college and working life, through education and industry partnerships.
Following the 9-14 model, students spend six years at the school, taking core courses in English, science, mathematics and the arts in their first four years and spending their final two years getting an associate’s degree in applied science (AAS) with a computer science or engineering focus.
This gives P-TECH students a college education at no cost, including tuition, books and other expenses students typically pay. Priority is given to students who live in Brooklyn.
Alliance School, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Gates Foundation provided a grant to start the Alliance School in 2005, a middle and high school with an open-minded, anti-bullying ethos at its heart. It’s a safe place for students, regardless of their ability, appearance, sexuality and beliefs, and 76 percent of students come from minority backgrounds.
Many of the students identify as LGBTQ (and have often previously experienced bullying and harassment in other public school districts before enrolling at the Alliance School) and are supported by staff, giving them the security and freedom to be themselves.
The Young Women's Leadership Schools (TYWLS), New York City
TYWLS, supported by the Student Leadership Network, are single-sex public secondary schools for grade six through 12, founded in 1996 to help bridge the gap between men and women in high-ranking career positions.
Students are mainly from low-income backgrounds and often the first generation in their families to go to college. The schools’ mantra is “If I can see it, I can be it,” and students are encouraged to have college counseling and interact with a wide range of professionals from an early stage.
As a result, TYWLS students achieve four-year college degrees at nearly four times the rate of their peers.
Harvey Milk High School (HMHS), New York City
Named after the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, Harvey Milk High School is a public high school in NYC’s East Village designed for students in grades 10-12 who have not met success in at least one other high school and want to continue their education in an alternative, safe, small school environment welcoming of LGBTQ students.
At HMHS, promoting diversity and fostering a confident community is just as important as achieving academic success. The school provides students with employment and personal health advice as well as education.
York School, Monterey, California
York School, for grades eight through 12, has an average class size of 13 and a 100 percent college acceptance rate.
Its academic program focuses on helping students gain the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the modern world, with an innovative approach to learning that includes the “20% Project” – a product-focused, project-based learning assignment throughout the whole school year to encourage students to explore a creative interest.
Students are also encouraged to expand their perspectives via the creative arts, such as music or theatre.
Parley’s Park Elementary School, Park City, Utah
Parley’s Park, serving students from preschool through fifth grade, is committed to language diversity through the state-supported Utah Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program, in which students spend half the day learning in English and the other half learning in Spanish.
The goal is to engage all students, regardless of their first language, with no single dominant culture in any of the core subjects, in order to produce students who are capable of contributing to a global economy.
The Primary School, East Palo Alto, California
Founded by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, the nonprofit preschool through grade 12 Primary School serves families in the East Palo Alto and Belle Haven communities, with a focus on low-income families and families of color.
Students start full-time school at age three, but families receive support services from their child’s birth. Partnership with community groups, such as the federally qualified Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto, allows the school to provide a wide range of integrated health supports to students and their families.
Zoo School, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Also on Parent & Child magazine’s list of the “Coolest Schools in America,” Zoo School takes sixth-grade students on a year-long field trip at the John Ball Zoological Garden, where they raise animals, study anatomy and astronomy, and work on various projects, including an independently chosen research project to present at the end of the year.
This innovative, hands-on learning experience teaches students the basics of business and management in an inspiring, unique setting, where a typical school day involves feeding animals, recycling and navigating trails.