When captains of industry took up the cause of education reform
the 1990s, they aimed to "break the mold" of US public schools.
No more bits and pieces of reform - a little remedial reading
here, a new box of math kits there. The business leaders that got
behind the New American Schools initiative wanted big, bold designs
for comprehensive reform - including everything from content to
teaching to parental involvement.
It started like a classic top-down Washington initiative,
including a summons to the Rose Garden of top names in US business
and education. But the legacy of the New American Schools
Development Corp. (NASDC), which closed last month, may be
local. The maverick entrepreneurs and charter-school operators now
taking up the mantle of whole-school reform don't look like the
corporate elites that launched it. Their aim is to prove that the
best way to reform schools is to start from scratch.
In April 1991, President George Bush called on business leaders to
put their "genius for invention to work for America's schools."
These included people like David Kearns, the chief executive officer
(CEO) of Xerox Corp., who had turned his company around by new
quality- management practices.
Many were shocked by what they saw in US school management. Where
was the budget for research and development, the accountability, the
quality control? They didn't like reports from their human-resource
directors that new job applicants were short on basic skills.
Moreover, they thought that they understood what many voters and
school boards did not - that turning around the culture and
performance of a school takes time, focused effort, and the
to stay the course.
"We knew it would take years to implement these changes, because
people who had been involved in the corporate world knew how long it
took to change a corporate culture," says Paige Cassidy, who joined
the New American Schools development team on loan from AT&T.
Business leaders pledged $42 million, and board member Walter
Annenberg, former United States ambassador to Britain, added another
$50 million in 1993, as part of a $500 million grant to help public
education - the largest-ever private gift to public schools. Their
goal was to identify new education designs that would help all
students meet world-class standards in at least five core subjects
while operating on a budget within reach of schools.
New American School designs are now in use in more than 1,000
schools and 31 states. With $150 million in federal funding this
year, some 2,500 schools are expected to implement some form of
whole-school design this year.
A variety of strategies for change
These designs range from Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound,
which promotes "learning expeditions" around a single theme, to
Modern Red Schoolhouse, which emphasizes a rigorous, traditional
curriculum. The Co-NECT Schools model works best with a computer in
every classroom, while the Roots and Wings design offers tightly
scripted instruction that requires no new investment in technology.
But for principals under the gun to boost test scores, they all
offer a coherent strategy for improving teaching, testing, and
parental involvement. In addition, design teams provide on-site
support and benchmarks to measure progress.
For example, Annapolis Elementary School - operating in the oldest
elementary school building in use in Maryland - is in its second
with the Expeditionary Learning design. Kids say they love their
classes, parents are volunteering in record numbers, and officials
say the climate of learning has improved dramatically.
"The model gave us a framework, a tremendous amount of staff
development, and momentum," says Principal Rebecca Schou. "I used to
see eight to 10 students a day with discipline problems; now I'm
seeing almost no one. We've seen about 12 students return from
private schools, and parents expressly said that they're back
of what's happening here. …