co-founder, Minnesota New Country School, Henderson, Minnesota, brings
to the Caucus an example of successful innovation in the education
field. Seventeen years ago Doug Thomas co-founded the Minnesota New
Country School, a successful charter high school that incorporates
self-directed project-based learning, autonomous school management,
teacher "ownership" and democratic governance in a small-school
describes what makes the school different from traditional
"command/control" public schools, and how this radically changes the
experience for teachers and students. He details the process of
replicating the school model in other communities in Minnesota and
elsewhere. While this school is perhaps unconventional at present, he
contends that the principles underlying its design are sound and far
more compatible with both teacher and student needs than more common
traditional school models.
For the complete
interview summary see:
Readers have been asked to rate, on a scale of (0) most disagreement,
to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, the following points discussed
Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all
readers’ zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be
considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.
(7.3 average response) Teachers
should be allowed to run their schools as professional partnerships,
much as partners practice in law, accounting or investment firms, with
autonomous control over budget and staffing and full accountability
for financial and academic success.
(7.7 average response) In contrast to
traditional classroom learning, students, parents and teachers should
be allowed to use project-based learning, which emphasizes student
needs and interests incorporated in a personalized learning plan,
aided by extensive use of technology.
(8.0 average response) For intended
results to be achieved in teacher-run, project-based schools,
authentic assessment is essential, enabled by multiple adult advisors
for each student, electronic standards tracking, community
involvement, ongoing life skills measurement, and standardized
4. Department of
(7.0 average response) The Minnesota
Department of Education should encourage schools organized around
project-based learning and managed by professional associations of
teachers to be widely replicated.
of Education support.
LeMunyon (7.5) (5) (7.5) (5)
learning. I think project-based learning is best for students that
have difficulty with traditional learning. Many students flourish
with traditional learning.
4. Department of
Education support. Perhaps project-based learning should be tried in
schools that are otherwise failing their students.
Angevine (7.5) (7.5) (5) (5)
partnerships. While I have trouble seeing this as an overall solution
to the current education system issues I do think that it can work in
some situations, primarily in smaller population areas. I support
this as long as the results back up the process.
requirements. The New Country School seems to take advantage of a
large amount of volunteer assistance. I question whether this is
workable across the board and wonder what the true costs are if this
volunteer labor needs to be supplemented by paid labor.
4. Department of
Education support. I agree the State needs to be supportive and not a
roadblock but again would like to see the results.
W. Sievert (0) (5) (7.5) (0)
partnerships. Teachers are abjectly deficient in management
capability. This is not what they do best. A better model would be
the one that is used in hospitals - a hospital administrator with
profit and loss responsibility and a competent medical chief of staff
who has significant power to make decisions. Charter schools in
general have failed abysmally. There are a few examples where it
works (like the school presented here). Largely issues like
curriculum and management pale in comparison to parental involvement
and commitment. Dig deeper here and I think you will find that that
is the basis of their success and not much else.
learning. Sure. But leave it up to schools, teachers and school boards
requirements. Yes, but there is no assessment and accountability on
parents and families to follow through on their part of the plan. That
is the huge piece that we are missing. For example, a school has to
come to a plan together with the family detailing what each will do
for a special education student's plan. If the school does their part
and the family doesn't do their part, the standardized test score
doesn't improve and the school is on the hook for that. So more
resources get applied to this child even though the family doesn't
follow through. Where's the accountability in that? At some point,
the schools ought to be able to take their case to an administrative
law judge and if the judge agrees, then the parents who are not
following through ought to be taxed for the additional resources they
are consuming and wasting.
4. Department of
Education support. MDE ought to stay out of it. One size doesn't
(fit) all and we need to make that a local decision and a teacher
Marx (10) (10) (7.5) (7.5)
partnerships. Teachers and all others running a school need to be
partners in the operation.
learning. This is how learning occurs.
4. Department of
Education support. MDE does not encourage as much as facilitate.
Brazelton (7.5) (10) (7.5) (7.5)
partnerships. As we have seen in the Charter school development in
Minnesota, this works better at some sites than others. As in
anything, it depends on the mix of people involved, and their capacity
for achieving the level of success that the New Country School has.
learning. I wholeheartedly agree that kids are motivated to learn when
the topic is one that stirs up their own passions, especially in a
requirements. All kids leave school to become citizens of the world,
and if public dollars are being expended there is some responsibility
to ensure that the dollars are used wisely and that the graduates have
certain fundamental abilities. As the speaker indicated, the
replication of this program to other schools was not uniformly
4. Department of
Education support. Again, the success of any school depends on the
people involved. Some schools and systems have a better structure for
success, and I appreciate what the speaker has accomplished through
New Country. As we compare the results, and look at some of the
failures in the district system, his successes are impressive.
Just (7.5) (7.5) (7.5) (5)
learning. Technology-aided education is the key -- partnered with
dedicated time. Today any concept, topic or idea can be learned
anywhere and at any time by anyone -- with the time. Many high school
students thrive with technology-led learning (e.g., hybrid online
classes), but some lack the discipline to "do the class" outside of
the physical walls of a building.
requirements. Multiple adult advisors (are) key—and expensive in the
traditional "district" unless resources are allocated for such.
4. Department of
Education support. New Country appears to work great for small
schools. Large Urban or Suburban High Schools are going to have
trouble. Giving small, local control, when class sizes are 500 kids
(and schools are 2000 kids - larger than the size of Henderson) is
going to require some radical changes. Not that radical might not be
good -- but it’s going to take more than four questions and Mr.
Thomas' understanding and good will.
The interview brought up the idea that some students will not choose a
school that does not have sports.... or some music opportunity. Sports
(and other co-curriculars) are entrenched in our schools, and drive
many students to "show up" each day. These opportunities teach some
concepts that are difficult to learn anywhere else (physical drive,
time management when emotionally and/or physically depended upon,
resilience, perseverance, etc.). The question needs to be
addressed—and I think can be answered: how can we fit-in these co-curriculars?
This was a very interesting interview and I think I could comment for
a long time.
Hennessey (7.5) (2.5) (7.5) (2.5)
partnerships. This is (almost) the definition of a good private
school. Good luck getting this past the unions. Good luck finding the
teachers who think of themselves as professionals at this level, good
luck finding those who truly are.
learning. There is room for both traditional teaching and
project-based teaching. Sometimes you have to lecture, sometimes you
have to guide so the student can arrive at the solution by himself,
sometimes you have to focus on the individual student and sometimes
there is room for collaboration on a project, assuming each student
has a part for which he alone is responsible and understands how his
part and the parts of the others fits in with the whole. Technology
has nothing to do with this. Socrates and
Archimedes did not even have paper and pencil, they scribbled in the
requirements. Objective standards and testing are always required.
Otherwise how would you know if you are doing any good? Again,
tracking progress does not have to rely on technology; us old fogey's
still managed to get grades and test scores back in the pencil and
4. Department of
Education support. The best thing any state and federal department of
education can do is close up shop (and) stop wasting valuable
resources on useless, obtuse and obtrusive bureaucracy and their
intrusive unfunded mandates that have nothing to do with education.
Education is a personal, family and local matter. The students go to
school in their neighborhoods, not in the state capital or in
Washington DC. The bureaucrats there have no idea what needs and
challenges confront the individual student and his school.
(Bill) Hamm (0) (0) (0) (0)
partnerships. As soon as schools are owned by teachers we the people
will give them autonomous control, not one … minute sooner. As for
other accountability, let them stand in competition against home
schooling and private schooling. When they truly can compete we will
learning. Project based learning is just another (phrase) from the
…elitists who have done everything possible to turn the simple job of
educating our children into something almost incomprehensibly too
complex to be manageable. The system we used in years gone by that
adequately served 94% of our students was far better than this
individualized, over-complicated (approach) again being pushed here.
Brain science has clearly proven that rote is how we learn.
requirements. First of all we need -un, child-based schools using
objective analysis to insure that quality education has been achieved.
Authentic assessment in this context is merely more … jargon for more
subjective (touchy feely) analysis over realistic objective analysis.
No amount of subjective nonsense will tell you if little Johnny
actually learned to add, subtract, multiply, or divide. Only good
old-fashioned objective and provable analysis will accomplish this
4. Department of
Education support. The Minnesota Department of Education needs to be
all but eliminated along with the legislature’s ignorant oversight of
Dillon (10) (10) (10) (10)
Anderson (0) (7.5) (2.5) (2.5)
Pickard (7.5) (10) (10) (10)
partnerships. This and many of the other concepts are good if they are
grounded in sound practice. Should they be allowed to do this? Yes,
if they know what they're doing. It's not easy and requires a new
approach and discipline. Now that one school has worked through this,
the principles, discipline, methods should be taught to others. It's
likely not the right work environment for all teachers.
learning. Applying learning is pretty basic. But again, it requires a
new discipline that may not come easily to administrators and
teachers. I think it's critical for learning and developing
confidence and the ability to make one's way in the world. Reminds me
of "the old days" when schools had high quality extra-curricular
activities that mirrored classes: music, art, drama, speech, language
clubs, science clubs, local volunteering, etc. Those were
opportunities for students to have fun, apply learning, and extend
learning in a group setting -- especially when the advisors were also
Brauer (10) (10) (10) (10)
In these days of
rapid change and a global economy, project-based learning, not
multiple-choice tests should be how our students are taught and
assessed. Three decades ago the bipartisan A Nation At Risk
recommended project-based learning, computerized personal learning
plans and teaching systemic thinking. In the time since, we have gone
backward not forward. It is refreshing to see people like Doug Thomas
with the vision and leadership to see what education needs. The only
thing missing from this vision is system-based assessment of each
school. Without it success can be illusory and misleading.
Gruenhagen (na) (na) (na) (na)
Thank you for the
information; I am a strong supporter of charter schools.
Quie (10) (10) (9) (10)
Oshiro (na) (na) (na) (na)
New Country School
is an excellent example of an R&D school, but it is not a model that
will fit everywhere. One size/model does not fit all. This does
raise some important issues about standards and state supervision, but
does not propose solutions to those issues. We need state standards
and supervision without micromanagement - a balance not easy to
Jennings (8) (10) (10) (10)
Country School is one of the most innovative and successful schools in
the nation. I think that’s attributable more to its curriculum and
design than the co-op model. You could have a teacher partnership that
maintained the status quo. This one doesn’t but another might.
Stone (10) (10) (10) (10)
This is a great
concept informed by a tremendous apolitical effort.
Cox (10) (10) (10) (10)
system today in America has become suffocated with too much
administration. The types of schools Mr. Thomas describes would be a
welcome breath of fresh air in the education process.
Richard McGuire (8) (8) (10) (10)
was not aware that this school and this system existed. Our
educational system is going to need a great deal (of) innovation going
forward if we are to achieve what we need to achieve. We need to
openly think about doing things differently. I have been involved for
9 years with an organization that puts tutors from all walks of life
into inner city Catholic Schools, as a way to put additional free
teaching resources into cash strapped schools.
Alley (10) (10) (10) (10)
New Country School
is a great model.
King (10) (10) (10) (10)
I remember Doug
from my halcyon Saturn School days in St. Paul years ago, where we did
many of the same things. He's another pioneer, but one who was able to
make it happen much longer than we did.
Reforming a school is hard, keeping it reformed is harder, (and)
replicating it elsewhere is darn near impossible. But that's no excuse
and Ruth Hauge (6) (6) (7) (7)
Halstead (10) (10) (10) (10)
would not work well in all settings but possibly could be included in
most school districts as an alternative program and include
extracurricular activities for the students to participate.
Press (0) (0) (5) (0)
Bishop (10) (10) (10) (10)
I have been a
long-time colleague, friend and supporter of Doug and charter
environments. I lead a founding team of a Minneapolis charter school
and utilized, at the time, project-based learning. Before the onset
of this process, I initiated similar portfolio-based learning at
Mounds View Area Learning Center. Thank you for highlighting Doug and
Carolyn Ring (8) (6) (8) (7)
This all would
take considerable training of how to set goals and expected outcomes,
mediating of different ideas among the faculty, willingness of faculty
to cooperate with decisions made etc. There is no doubt more teacher,
parent and student input is needed and the ideal should be pursued.
Schwarzkopf (7) (7) (9) (7)