Flickr: Elizabeth Albert

The current structure of the school day is obsolete, most would agree. Created during the Industrial Age, the assembly line system we have in place now has little relevance to what we know kids actually need to thrive.

Most of us know this, and yet making room for the huge shift in the system that’s necessary has been difficult, if not impossible because of fear of the unknown, says educator Madeline Levine, author of Teach Your Children Well.

“People don’t like change, especially in times of great uncertainty,” she said. “People naturally go conservative and buckle down and don’t want to try something new. There are schools that are trying to do things differently, and although on the one hand they’re heralded as having terrific vision, they’re still seen as experimental.”

During this time of economic uncertainty, especially, Levine said parents want to make sure their kids won’t fall into the ranks of the unemployed and disenfranchised young people who return home because they’re unable to find jobs. “There’s so much anxiety around the economy, they’re thinking, What can I do to make sure that my kid isn’t one of the unemployed”? she said.

Yet therein lies the paradox. It’s exactly during these uncertain times when people must be willing to try new things, to be more open, curious and experimental, she said. In education, although there are great new models of learning and schooling, they are the exceptions, and the progressive movement has not gained much momentum.

“I’m astounded at the glacial pace of change in education,” she said. “Like many academic areas, there’s a huge disconnect between what’s known and what’s in practice. It’s very slow moving.”

Levine, who was a teacher herself for many years, said she has tremendous respect for educators and believes they need full support from parents and administrators. But until the directive comes from those in power — national and state policymakers, superintendents, principals — what can teachers do individually to make learning relevant for their students?

“One thing we know for sure is that kids learn better when teachers are invested and paying attention and showing they care,” she said. “The biggest impact you’ll have as a teachers is the relationship you establish with your student.”

Try to integrate what students are interested in within what’s happening in class, get to know each student, and have high expectations. Taking seriously the range of interests kids have, she said.

In addition to individual attention, Levine believes a child’s time in school should look much like what kindergarten did.

“There’s probably no better example of the throttling of creativity than the difference between what we observe in a kindergarten classroom and what we observe in a high school classroom,” she writes in Teach Your Children Well. “Take a room full of five-year-olds and you will see creativity in all its forms positively flowing around the room. A decade later you will see these same children passively sitting at their desks, half asleep or trying to decipher what will be on the next test.”

In an ideal world, the school day would reflect kids’ changing needs and rhythms. There would be time for free play; school would start later to allow time for students’ much-needed rest; the transition time between classes would be longer, allowing time for kids to walk down the hall and say hi to their friends and plan their next moves; kids would have the opportunity to step away from school “work” in order to regroup and process what they’ve absorbed. “The actual encoding of information doesn’t take place when you’re hunched over a desk,” she said.

And just as importantly, the arts would be integrated into a curriculum, not as an ancillary addition, but as a primary part of learning. “For developing creativity and flexible and divergent thinking, we need to bring back the arts,” she said. “It’s a travesty that kids don’t have arts anymore.”


“We’re operating on a 200- year-old paradigm in a world that needs an entirely different skill set,” she said. “When we talk to business owners, we hear this large and increasing drumbeat that the jobs are there, but kids applying for jobs don’t have the kinds of skills they need.”

Levine spends a lot of her time at Challenge Success, a school training program at Stanford that’s been incorporated into about 100 schools across the country. The five criteria that Challenge Success brings to schools attempts to modernize the obsolete system in place today: scheduling, project based learning, alternative assessment, climate of care, and parent education.

  • PROJECT BASED LEARNING. Project-based learning has shown to be a much more effective way to think about learning, “particularly when you live in a world that’s incredibly unclear on what content is going to be relevant in not just 10 or 20 years, but in three years,” she said. “Over and over business leaders say kids need to be collaborative, work across time zones and cultures because problems are so complex.”
  • ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENT. “You don’t have the opportunity to show what you know in a regular school because standardized tests that are mandated only show what some kids know, but leave out a whole bunch of kids who aren’t able to show what they know in different ways,” she said. We should have alternative criteria for gauging students’ knowledge and ability to show what they know.
  • SCHEDULING. Neuroscience research on sleep is becoming more compelling by the day, particularly around depression, Levine said. “We’d always thought fatigue is symptom of depression, but now it’s looking more like lack of sleep causes depression, and that’s something looked at seriously.” Kids needs nine hours of sleep, and if schools were in synch developmentally with teenagers, should would start at 10 a.m., especially when kids enter adolescence. Teachers should also coordinate their exams with each other to ensure that students are not taking multiple tests on the same day.
  • CLIMATE OF CARE. Research shows that kids do better in classes where teachers know their names and say hello to them, and when they have their own advocates or advisers at school. “Almost every private school has advisory, a person for each kid to go to,” Levine said. “But in public schools, there are just a few counselors for a thousand kids or more. By the time you’re hitting high school, you need someone apart from parents to test ideas with, to kick around problems, a go-to person who a kid feels knows them.”
  • PARENT EDUCATION. Well-meaning parents are confounded with how to approach managing their kids’ times. Kids needs playtime, downtime, and family time, Levine said. “We’ve robbed kids at each stage of childhood and adolescence of tasks that belong in that particular stage,” she said. “You can’t push kids outside their developmental zone and expect them to learn. You want to push them towards the edge of it, but not over.”


Why Kids Need Schools to Change 22 August,2013Tina Barseghian

  • putyatin

    Yes. I do think these are some of the changes we need. The Climate of Care, Alternative Assessment, and Project-Based Learning are all key to a new model of education that is not just about obedience, protocol, and doing what you are told. I also think we might rethink the purpose of education for the 21st century. We can’t be smart about revision unless we know what purpose we are serving, and if the purpose of education has changed, then making positive revisions to a system that is striving to meet obsolete ends won’t do. It strikes me that unless employ systems thinking, we could get very, very good at doing the wrong thing.

  • gadsdengurl

    Total impractical when you have 30 kids, but doable as home schooling.

    • fiveinschool

      These ideas are already in practice at my son’s public high school.

    • cv

      Which is why class sizes need to change too.

  • TNTruth

    Brief article, yet so much to respond to. As a 40 year veteran with strong Secondary Educ/Math/Clinical Psych. skill set, I used my training almost daily; but never in the traditional classroom setting. Just picking one item above to comment on, it would be the need for advocate/advisers for each child. We know it has a high return as we see it in micro settings with nearly every mentor is a volunteer and every child has “volunteered” to some degree. Every child must have this and selling it and the enormous cost seems impossible. BUT, the costs of not embracing this and funding it could and most probably is, ten-fold to the cost of having such in place.

    • star

      yes, I know there is a special skill set to be a counselor, but why cant teachers work as this? maybe scheduled weekly visits with certain students throughout their stay at the school… teachers meeting monthly with counselors would be a good root for now? I agree this needs to happen. This would have helped me so much

  • montessori

    Montessori Education.

    • alizzila

      This would require MUCH smaller class sizes than we currently can “afford.” If you are serious about implementing a new Education style, or theory, you will have to convince taxpayers to invest in it.

      Personally, International Baccalaureate is much more challenging than Montessori. Also, it does much more to prepare students for the global environment/economy they will face.

      Montessori is only good for the original years it was developed for. It stops having much value after age 8.

      • Mike

        This is the type of comment that irks me.

        The leading Montessori organization in the world, AMI, recommends class sizes of more than 30 children in all years. To the extent that schools don’t follow this guidance it is parents pushing them to do this based on research showing small classes are better in traditional schools. Montessori works best with large classes.

        Dr. Montessori developed curriculum through 6th grade and wrote extensively about the older years. So the 8 year-old comment above is just wrong.

        If you want to talk about cost, what about changing curriculum and tests every three years? Montessori curriculum and materials represent an upfront capital cost but can be used indefinitely. The curriculum is genius and doesn’t change. This represents an affront to the curriculum mills, but would substantially lower costs over the long haul.

        Wittgenstein said it best, “what we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”

        Stop spreading misinformation please.

    • john

      or better yet, homeschooling by the parents who know their children better than any teacher CAN

  • But a 10 a.m. start would mean that students have to be kept in school until the late afternoon so they end up spending their whole day in school and have little free time for extra-curriculars, hobbies, friends, etc. Also, I don’t know any students who don’t hate group projects because they’re extremely unfair – one or two persons always end up doing most of / all the work.

    • B. Stone

      The real injustice of group work is the surreptitious suggestion that the students who don’t work hard have a right to the knowledge and intelligence of the ones who do. The labor that goes into getting the grade is a small detail by comparison.

    • Guest

      Because in the real work environment, no one has to work in collaboration with others of different skill sets. A business works best when each person is only looking out for their own measure of success :-).

    • alizzila

      The article wasn’t speaking about group projects. It was discussing project based learning — meaning instead of a simple writing assignment day in and day out, students work on a new writing assignment each week that is later turned into a “TIME” magazine. That’s what I did with my kids. Each week we focused on a different style of informational text, and after six weeks of writing each student had six different articles for their magazine. They loved it, and worked independently the whole way through.

  • Frances K

    My two middle school-aged kids went to a project-based learning school last year because we wanted a more personalized, creative approach to learning. They are now back in the regular public school because we grew concerned about the quality of the education they received in the project-based school. Yes, it was a creative and fun environment for my kids, but the development of other essential skills such as discipline and hard work were not part of the educational plan.

    • knightofmars

      Discipline and hard work are taught at home, period. You can’t expect a school to teach something that is so inherently learned from a child watching their parents for the correct model. Additionally, you run the risk of disillusionment if you tell them “work hard in school to succeed” and they end up hitting the finish of graduate school with 60k in debt and not a job prospect to be seen.

      • And there you have hit on one of the major problems in education. Many parents either won’t or can’t teach these (and other) values yet schools are expected to “leave no child behind.” While you correctly don’t expect schools to make up the loss, many persons are not so reasonable. If a child doesn’t know his/her father and the mother is a drug addict, or has left the child in the care of its grandparents or other family members, this child starts well behind other students, and parents and society expect the schools to make up the difference. They also expect the schools to teach manners, hygiene, nutrition, diversity, and how to use computers and safely use the Internet; all with larger classes and fewer teachers.

  • Howie

    Today’s Education is Dysfunctional and Fragmented with little Coherence, which includes all Public Schools, Private Schools, Montessori, Colleges and Universities. All these little improvements we see in schools are inadequate. We can talk all day about what we need to do to improve school education. But the bottom line is, if there are not enough qualified people who fully understand the improvements that we need or how to implement these improvements, these improvements will be to little and to late. You have to define education as a whole. It’s knowing What to Learn, When to Learn it, How to Learn it, and Why you need to Learn it? Education curriculum needs a complete overhaul. And that is what I’m working on at
    Create the perfect education, create effective instructions and teaching methods, and create effective ways to test and confirm intelligence and skills.

  • For whatever reason, our nation still clings to an Eighteenth-century Prussian model while the rest of the world continues to advance.
    Rather than harassing both teacher and students with higher test score demands we should implement the systemic changes our education system so desperately needs.

  • B. Stone

    There are so many articles with changes to recommend, yet very few provide links to peer reviewed research that supports the author’s conclusions. So much of what passes for pedagogical knowledge in educational spheres is really an adulterated mixture of science and philosophy. Without the empirical rigor of science or the philosophical tradition of logic, it lacks the virtues of either one.
    What is the reader supposed to say? “Yes, that sounds intuitively plausible?” These might be good recommendations, but I have know way to know.

  • daisy

    Based on some of the articles I read on American education, a person who did not regularly interact with schools may think that they resemble some factory hell from a Dickens novel. This is just not true. There may be inidividual schools, regions, and districts that are not performing as well as they can or should, but I have worked in some amazing schools where educators are doing everything they can for the students. We have had Project-based learning opportunities for the 21 years I have taught science. Unit projects, culminating activities, Science Fair, etc. . This is a regular part of American Education for most students. It is uncomfortable for some and enjoyable for others, just like everything else. Teachers constantly use alternative assessment, both formative and summative. The state and federal government insist on Standardized tests and there is a place for these as well. Experience is very valuable in child assessment, especially in formative assessment. Teachers who are enthusiastic but inexperienced may lack this skill. The scheduling and time issue is ridiculous. If we started school at 10AM, students would not get home from jobs, practices, games, and lessons until 11PM at night. My students are scheduled so much in their after school time that we should be starting the day earlier than our 8:55 starting time. Most High School students want to start early, even though it is not comfortable, because they have events and jobs after school. Also, my students will freely admit that much of their sleep deprivation comes from late night texting, video games, and other entertainments. Everyone is aware that teens have a different sleep pattern, but part of growing up is learning how to manage these things. As for student names, of course teachers know the names of all of their students. Every year I learn hundreds of names and faces and personalties. It takes me several weeks. I have to rely on my seating chart for a while. I occasionally make a mistake. Of course! As for parent education, I only wish that parents realized how important routine and consistency are for children. Regular attendance, regular bedtiime, real and natural food, imaginative play instead of battery-operated entertainments, attention and interaction that is meaningful, clear boundaries and expectations are all part of being a parent but some of my parents are not aware or work so much that they expect the school to supply all of these things to their children. Some just cannot handle saying “no” and being the “bad guy” because they do not want to deal with tantrums or discipline. In reality, there is wonderful education happening in America. This rarely gets the light of day because no one can sell their “fix” and make money from it. In the same way that the gift of a great parent is not recognized until we are grown, the gift of a good teacher is not always recognized because we create the environment for the child to engage appropriately with concepts so the childrent think they have done it all themselves.

    • Robin Ballard

      I wholeheartedly agree with every word!

    • Lena Hartshorn

      thanks for that great response!

    • emmacrane

      i remember high school & I slept thru the first few classes, because I was exhausted. i did not have tv in my room, or a computer (i was of the age where we learned to type on typewriters). we managed sleep deprivation, we didn’t manage “sleep”. Getting up at 5:30 was difficult then, and it is difficult now. I love my job today where I come in at 9:30. I get up at 7 and am fully rested by the time I get to work. I was getting to work at 6:45 in high school. what kind of ridiculous is that.

      • EKP

        Truth. I started high school about a decade ago, and while we did have computers and TV, the reason I was sleep-deprived is because I would wake up at 5:30 every morning to be at school by 7 or so (that is including a 20-minute drive). Then, after getting out of school at 2:30, I would go straight to play rehearsal, which ran for three hours. I’d get out of rehearsal and go to either fencing practice, choir practice, or voice lessons. Most nights I’d get home around 9:30 at night, and then I’d have two hours or so of homework, getting me to bed around 11:30. The pressure to do lots of extracurricular activities and perform perfectly in class in order to get into a good college was intense then, and I think it has only gotten worse in recent years as colleges become more and more selective. If school had started even just an hour later, I would have been better-rested, healthier, and indeed, able to perform even better in class.

    • Maureen Basedow

      Daisy, two things, 1) I don’t know where you teach school, but project-based learning is not a regular part of high school for most American students. Most American public school students are in underperforming high schools with majority low income students. The only way to do PBL is for the teacher to pay for everything out of his or her own pocket, which is impossible for most of us on these low salaries. We also do not have block scheduling (PBL is hard on 45-minute bells). We do have a pacing guide geared solely to getting the students through high school graduation tests. 2) I am not sure you have had PBL for 21 years and are confusing it with “projects.” PBL means all the content is taught through STEM projects — all of it, not just the end of unit group project or the science fair club, which have existed since time immemorial. Can you teach without direct instruction, worksheets, or homework? If you can’t, it’s not PBL. PBL, or any inquiry-based instruction, is quite challenging, extremely rewarding, great for the students – but nearly impossible to reconcile with the pacing for the state standardized tests.

  • Cafequaid

    The answer is not so cut and dry as the author states. Here is a novel idea, how about parents and students take an active role in their child’s ( or own) education istead of the teacher. In my 13 years as an educator I’ve seen a direct link to the students who have parental involvement in their lives than those who do not. It is the parent, not the teacher. It is the home, not the classroom that dictates success. Yes schools and teachers are important. We contribute. But the real key to student success lies from within and in the home. Think about it, if a child is not willing to learn, the best teacher in the world will not get that child to learn.
    To quote Elane Maxwell,
    “Whether I fail or succeed shall be no man’s doing but my own. I am the force. I can clear any obstacle before me or I can be lost in the maze. My choise: my responsibility; win or lose, only I hold the key to my destiny.”
    Once kids want to do well they will. How do kids want to do well, it comes from the home.

    • sklein

      I totally agree with you. When I was in school my parents couldn’t have cared less about my education. After my mom left, the push or caring went a level or so lower. As long as I wasn’t failing my dad would leave me alone. He didn’t go to parent teacher conferences, check my homework, or anything like that. I just barely passed and as an adult I know I could have done so much better. I’m trying to do the opposite of my parents and am extremely involved in my daughter’s school. Why shouldn’t I be? There isn’t any real excuse other than laziness.

      • star

        I am doing the same… my mom just let me play all the time, my dad left… they are both in bad shape right now, so I’m doing my best to build my work ethic… had to start college a few classes behind getting credit… it was only my teachers and my personality to want to please that helped me out…

    • Hummingbird

      I couldn’t agree more. But as a teacher, I’m stumped–how do you get parents to care who don’t care, or are so troubled that they can’t participate positively and consistently in their child’s life? I teach reading to children with dyslexia and learning disabilities–these last two weeks, I had a child miss 9 of 10 school days, unexcused; a dyslexic child who has needed glasses for months, but the parent won’t take the child to the exam even though our nurse arranged for a free exam and pair; of 27 students, 2 only have returned homework. One desperately needy child told me his dad (mom is in prison) was tired and said he didn’t want to read with his child. These scenarios are repeated over and over throughout our country. What do we do?? I would say a parenting program would be great–but guess what–the parents who really need to attend wouldn’t come. How do we solve society’s deep rooted ills? How can we, as teachers, as much as we care, as much as we try, as much as we acquire more and more continuing education and advanced degrees–how do we make a parent care and do their part?

      • YES! Until we really value education as a culture, I don’t see how we can make these goals. I get my kids up out of their desks at least once a period (I teach HS language) and get lots of good “reviews” from them and their parents. but you are absolutely correct that the majority of the time, the home life dictates the success/failure of the child. (And yes, we teachers do help kids, and help some kids out of bad home lives, but it’s such an uphill battle.)

    • alizzila

      I have seen many students with no support from home who care deeply about their education. In fact, one of my brightest students lived in a group home for boys. He literally had no “home,” — no parents present.

      I agree with your overall point though. In fact, my experiences of seeing kids with shattered home lives who cared so much made me all the more angry at kids with perfectly apt parents who were enabling their success.

    • john

      Agreed, and the best way to do that is for them to homeschool their kids. They can do a far better job educating than the “professionals” anyway.

  • JH

    Every time I read Mind/Shift I’m apalled. This site is a massive promoter of the sea-sawing educational “reform” that has destroyed the education system.
    “Ecducation reform” has been big business for decades. It is one of the biggest rip-offs and wastes of resources in the US. Text-book re-writes, curriculum reform, computerized education, notebook and laptop handouts, plans and new plans and replans are legendary, and usually constructed so that someone’s friend gets a new contract for the new materials. There has been nothing new in 3rd grade math for a century. Why are the textbooks / formats / approaches / curriculum always changing?
    The only significant advances in education in the last five decades are in expanded knowledge of learing disabilities and how to address them in the classroom.
    “alternative assessment…standardized tests that are mandated only show what some kids know”
    Ha, what a joke. Standardized tests are mandated the way they are because they test for both the form and content of knowledge that people need to survive in today’s society. Try telling your bank that you don’t like the standardized mortgage apps. Hilarious.
    “climate of care”
    Did we need research to show that kids (and all people) work harder when they know people around them care? What a joke. That’s been obvious for 100 years. Not news.
    I could go on, but what’s the point?

    • beseriousplease

      How will text-book companies make money if they can’t sell thousands of ‘new edition’ copies in which the cover and a half-dozen other pages changed since the previous ‘new edition’? Have you gone mad?!

  • Tom MacKnight

    Climate Based Care and Project Based Learning require smaller classroom sizes. That’s not happening. Why? Well, our state governments have been robbing the school kitty for some time, reducing the money that it has to operate. This has meant reduced facilities, increased clasroom size, and reduced subject matter. It is a shame that politicians not educators are really in charge of the school systems.

    • oldnavywc38

      It isn’t the state government to robbed the schools, It is the federal government that dumped unfunded mandates on the states so they could cut taxes (mostly for the rich) and the states in turn had to push the costs off on cities and counties – again, unfunded

      • john

        The best idea to remediate these problems is to disband all government schools and separate school from state.

  • Robin Ballard

    I love this article. I have taught for 34 years and agree with every word. I can remember when I first began I would get “lectured” by the vice principal for straying from the curriculum. I never did that, I just taught the curriculum in a way that motivated the students. I remember teaching addition and subtraction and percentages using restaurant menus, pretend checking accounts and tipping. Ok, I was not using the math book, but my students were learning and that is all I cared about. As teachers we cannot make the big changes, we can only do our best with the very strict rules we are given. And, if tenure is taken away, teachers will be afraid to do anything differently, because they could be fired for not following the curriculum. Last year I got the necessary supplies and let my 7th graders make Mothers Day cards, if they wanted to, it was a casual option, while I showed a video. They were thrilled. My younger peers, said, “you can get in trouble for that”. Unfortunately they are right, but my students are very low income and I heard them discussing what they wished they could do for their moms. I gave them what they needed, what they wanted. I doubt very much their test scores were harmed by an hour of art.

    • TeachforLife

      Robin – I could not agree more. I love getting out of the curriculum box and teaching the standards — in a non-standardized way. I do projects that my colleagues do not understand and I’ve gotten called on the carpet for it. Thankfully, my administration gets it and once I explain the rationale I am sent back to carry on as usual. I never use a textbook and I am happy to give what I have in my classroom to my colleagues who teach the same classes, but can’t survive without a text. What is the internet good for if not to mix it up a bit? I do projects that a guided by content, but driven by innovation and creativity. Let the kids pursue their passions, question the world, and let’s see what we get at graduation. I’ll bet it is kids who we are proud to call “ours”.

  • My wife and I were concerned about how conventional education seemed to bleed the competence, curiosity, and creativity out of children early on. We did our research and both our children have been Waldorf educated from kindergarten through high school. Our daughter is now thriving as a freshman in college and our son as a sophomore in high school. While each child was blessed with different gifts and challenges the schools have helped both to cultivate a love for learning and a capacity to develop and draw upon inner resources to meet the challenges of living today. I trust that each will find his or her right place in the world.
    Even more important: while Waldorf delivers in its own way on implementing the innovations the author describes, and was a particularly good fit for our family, it is not the only system that can do so. As others have noted there are other pedagogies that have excellent track records, too, and we can tailor most to fit public education. We don’t lack knowledge about what works or teachers good enough to do the job. As the author notes, the problem is with our public policy failing to support implementing these systems that are better suited to meet the needs of our time and with our fear getting in our way of insisting on this transformation. Still, each day seems to bring more awareness of and discussion about this issue. I am hopeful.

  • Me

    “One thing we know for sure is that kids learn better when teachers are invested and paying attention and showing they care,” she said. “The biggest impact you’ll have as a teachers is the relationship you establish with your student.”

    This is all well and good. How does a teacher do this in a classroom with 30-40 children?

    My child is a gifted student. Not the boast of a doting parent, he was selected for the gifted students’ program in our local school system. By 3rd grade, he was becoming restless and disruptive in a mainstream classroom because he was underchallenged. Parent involvement alone isn’t enough. The teacher must have the “bandwidth” to devote extra attention to struggling or gifted children during the school day, and they can’t do that when they are overloaded and tasked with moving “the herd” through a curriculum that aims to be “good enough.”

    The gifted students’ program ends at high school in our district, so we sent our child to private high school rather than public high school where the class sizes are significantly smaller and the teachers provide more individualized attention during the school day as described in this article. For public schools to keep up, the student/teacher ratio must be reduced, whether through the addition of more teachers, or at least teacher aides. For those who decry education spending and budgets, then closer scrutiny and prioritization of spending is necessary, such as cutting bureaucracy costs or athletic programs if needed. Overall public budget priorities must be re-examined as well. Failure to spend sufficiently on the core mission of public schools will result in failure.

  • alizzila

    As a teacher, I was thrilled by the title of this article, but as with most things educational it is just “fluff.” Climate of care? Of course that is important — and it was important 30 years ago. Today’s kids have no higher need of knowing their teachers “care” about them then I did when I was a student.

    Project based learning — I haven’t taught in a school that didn’t embrace this idea. I’ve worked in three different schools. Teachers know kids need assignments that build on one another for one final “project.” Not to mention, project based learning makes a teachers job much easier. You get to assess the student’s work mid-project and correct any mistakes they may be making, and there is absolutely no reason the final project should be lower than C+ quality — unless the child completely dropped the ball, thus making it easier to address angry parents when their child earns a low grade. You have weeks of documented “failures” and your attempts to remedy the problem. The blame lies soley on the student and parents see that quickly.

    Later school start — again all teachers no this. If you teach Secondary School your kids are pretty brain dead until 9:00. Later starts will never happen though, because parents have to be to work by 8:00, so kids have to be to school by 7:45.

    The last “great change” I remember sweeping the nation was “open classrooms.” We were in a post-cold war age and we thought free thought would flow better if there were no walls. Students would feel more open to the world. School Districts invested millions on buildings that let teenagers run free and elementary aged kids practice the art of ADD.

    The changes need not come from the top down. The change that needs to be made is to let teachers opinions be heard, let them teach the way they know best, and have the public stop villianizing them as “lazy public union workers.”

    Okay, off my soap box. When will reform in Education ever stop being “fluff?”

    • Joe


    • Maureen Basedow

      See my comment above for Daisy – what you describe is not PBL. If it was PBL, you are not correcting failures. the kids are developing their own methods of problem-solving that treats every “failure” as an opportunity, which is in fact how it works in real life. Ask an engineer. The students are taking responsibility for their own learning. The teacher is a facilitator, but is certainly not stacking assignments toward a final project. They are leaning the content you are testing (because you still have to give tests – because the state is going to give them a test to graduate) through involvement in the project, not the other way around. For example, my students (10th graders) met the microscopy indicators by being faced with a problem: I gave them several dozen old microscopes I found in an old storage room. The problem was: should we keep these or discard them? We discussed what would recommend keeping them (good quality, working, repairable within budget) or discarding them (poorer quality, broken, not repairable within budget), then broke into groups and divided up the microscopes: they had to make the case for their instruments. As they soon figured out, they could not analyze or describe the microscopes without learning the parts of the microscope (which they had to research). They had to come up with a system for labeling and testing the different parts, and figure out methodologies for seeing what worked and what didn’t. They had to research the cost of maintenance. They had to compare the cost of keeping these to buying newer instruments. They had to compare the utility to the utility of the newer instruments we already had. They had to present their results and get feedback from the other groups. I didn’t have to assign anything. I had planned for five days – they worked so hard on this they were done in three. That’s PBL.

  • Rick Baum

    I am a high school teacher in New Zealand. Here students are given the opportunity to achieve in many different ways. Some of the standards are done through traditional testing which is performed at the end of the school year. The difference is that the test is only an outline. The information is based on what the student studied in that area. I am currently teaching Music Works to a group of Year 12 (11th grade) students. The exam they will get at the end of the year will be based on the two pieces we have studied. I was given full latitude to choose the pieces. Their grades will be based on how well they are able to interpret those pieces and annotate examples from the scores I have provided. Other schools use different pieces of music. I chose the two pieces based on the strengths of the students and what works I thought would stretch them into unknown territory. As a result their is significantly higher achievement as I can play into their strengths, as well as, teach them something new.

    This model exists across all areas of the curriculum. My son will be doing senior science next year. He wants to be a doctor so he will do the standards surrounding Biology, Chemistry and physics. He will not do standards in Astronomy, or many of the myriad of other science standards available to him. This way he can play into his strengths and the areas he needs to achieve his objectives in life.

    The final issue if funding. Granted we are a tiny country so when the conservative government tried to cut funding for intermediate schools the outcry across the country was so great the Education Minister backed down from that position. Overall the schools could be better funded, but compared to most school systems in the US they are pretty well taken care of. The students all have access to computers, even, and especially, in the “poorer” schools. They also have access to most of the resources they need to achieve. We also don’t have so much emphasis on competition between students. There is some but nothing like in a typical school in the US. These are a few reasons why our system is considered to be one of the best in the world alongside Finland and Sweden.

  • This may cause this to be removed, but, the article is a characteristic example of swindles being sold to the gullible!

    Pretty language. The imprimatur of scams being sold by people with a lot of letters after their name or by the “news” media. Carefully ignoring the successes of the past and the failures of present systems. In fact, treating every single different new approach as being equally superior, even without proof! Note how the article emphasizes these methods have high promises but are still experimental, but the article doesn’t use that to urge proper caution, but, rather, to cast subversive criticism at parents and othres who refuse to think the new systems are unqualified successes even before the “experiments” are over. Note, too, the cravenness of crooks who would experiment with children’s futures to get rich off selling their constantly changing “models” of learning. You can say anything, but just because you say it doesn’t mean it necessarily reflects truth. Look at the patent swill being passed off as “reason”.

    “Project based learning” is just a way of funneling in teachers who know even less about subjects than they are represented as knowing now! If the kids are just working on a project, the “teacher” woin’t have to instruct them in a single thing! And projects can take a long time. The time to come to one conclusion, which which mifght even be a wrong conclusion, can instead be used to provide a thousand individual items directly!

    Standardized tests are built around what should be known, not what only a few kids know. And as for answering questions in a different way, that is just another way to arrange teachers even inferior to what they are described as today. If you say performance is good if a kid just punches a hole through the paper, that’s worse than grade inflation!

    Note the illegitimacy of the approach to depression and sleelessness. The article quotes the belief that depression causes sleeplessness, but, now, it’s being accepted that it’s lack of sleep that causes depression. In other words, it’s an either/or and the old perception must be abandoned because, “Everyobdy in the past didn’t know nuthin’!”

    Let’s be frank. The “education” system being condemned to day is just precisely the one concocted from the endless parades of “improvements” in the past few decades. Self esteem, role models, self grading, relevance, “whole language”, computers in the classroom, LATIC! Implement the liteal garbage espoused in this article and you’lll have an even more monstrous abomination that other “remedies” will be called for in the future! Remember, the old system produced Shakespeare, Newton, Yeats, Maxwell, Twain. Among other things, they didn’t teach only in students’ “comfort zones” because they students would have to work in a world that required you not to rely on a “comfort zone” to achieve

  • An interesting article about changing the way we think of school. I like that she included parents in the process (a factor a lot of “reform” efforts ignore) but I have to disagree when she says, “until the directive comes from those in power — national and state policymakers, superintendents, principals — what can teachers do individually to make learning relevant for their students?” As a classroom teacher, I see the exact opposite…teachers and schools taking it upon themselves to create positive change because policymakers a) aren’t willing to make change, b) don’t know how to make change, c) make changes that don’t need to be made, or d) make changes that move schools in the wrong direction. Or all of the above. Of course that’s just my 2.31855 cents.

  • Molly Zhen

    One important note: you can’t have some of these things without the others. I took a U.S. Government class in high school that was almost 100% project-based learning, and it made me love politics. But the assessment system remained the same: the Springtime AP test had hardly changed from past years. Now, I and other kids in the class normally score very well on such tests, but this time, since the class had been centered around only a few big, relevant projects, we scored very low. If we had studied the whole year straight from the book, we all would’ve scored higher, like in our other AP classes. Project-based learning is a lot of fun, and a lot of work, but it doesn’t go well with standardized testing.

  • jaqio13

    i agree with some of her statements but her points don’t explain the success of asian children or the home schooled. also, i think that teaching children how to cook, sew, carpentry and basic automobile functions like changing a tire and doing an oil change would really help them deal with the tasks of every day life.

    • dawu

      i think that you are correct about basic education. i had drafting classes, art, PE, metal working (i made a screw driver), and collecting bugs for biology class (hated that!). it didn’t mean i’d succeed in any of that stuff, but the point was EXPOSURE to the diversity out there and gave me the perspective i needed to decide what i wanted to do with my life. has this gone from the education system? please tell me it is not so–the older i get i don’t keep up so well…

  • dawu

    i’d like to use this post to make two comments:

    1. thank you Mr. DuPre–high school chemistry who would invite kids to visit lectures in the evening across town; thank you Mrs. Hughes for American Literature, who would not let me or anyone else off for not thinking critically about the written word; Mr. Meyer, physics teacher, whom i would skip out of Phys-Ed to go back (along with a couple of other classmates) to talk to just because he was so irreverent and thus taught more than physics; and Ms Lorio for being so rigorous in geometry and going out with us for beer and pizza after graduation
    2. in my last year of high school, they collapsed two schools into one. thank you for that, because they had to do two shifts then. the one i got into was from 7 a.m. until 12 noon. GREAT! i got an afternoon job as a soda jerk, paid for the gas in my little beetle VW and some clothes and a memorable date that i still cringe over.

    oh yeah, my folks had moved to another state by then. i was on my own, living with an older lady who let me have a room.

  • oambiousone

    I just read this book a couple weeks ago. Levine enjoins us to release the obsession with placement and frivolous competition. She does not extend the argument to its obvious conclusion.

    Levine thinks “those in power” are “national and state
    policymakers, superintendents, principals.” I disagree. Those in power are the parents. They send the kids to school; they tolerate the system. John Holt said that the best way to change society is to change the individual. He writes in Teach Your Own:

    “…lasting social change always comes slowly, and only when people change their lives, not just their political belief…” In time, 1 percent may become
    2 percent, then 5…10,20,30 percent, until finally it becomes the
    dominant majority, and social change has taken place.”

    Levine’s ideal learning recommendations are a natural fit in home and small-group situations–not in large scale “movements” where there’s a lot of talk and theory and very little done. At home, parents already know the child, care about the child, and have that “impact” of a solid “relationship.” Who, if not the parent, is more invested in the child?

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  • Education has been a very special ‘battle ground’ for almost
    30 years now. We have seen a political influence first tentatively and then
    forcefully try to change education. Change what though and for what purpose? To
    ‘drive up standards’ has been the rallying call but has it and will the current
    centrally driven ideas do what so many earlier ones have, according to the
    present change masters, failed to do? Another question that makes it a ‘no win’
    situation is that education has too many masters at present. There is the
    political motivated, the employers and the parents all with their own view of
    what education should be. Notice I have left out teachers or educators, you may
    wonder why. It is simple, no one is listening to them. As Carl Sagen suggested,
    if we stop fighting each other we could have conquered space. My 32 year
    teaching career and research over the last three years into the science behind
    the art of teaching suggests there is enough collective wisdom to transform
    education into the form so needed by us all and so deserved by our young
    learners. So why don’t we do it? The simple answer is vested interests, they
    are competitive and not co-operative.

    We all celebrated the team GB’s cycling achievements this
    year, the person credited with masterminding their success was Dave Brailsford
    who used the phrase ‘The aggregation of marginal gains’. Could education learn
    something from this rather simple but effective strategy to transform and
    achieve success? Stop now if you think there is a magic bullet or a one
    solution solves all way of dealing with the education crisis we are told exists. That is the trouble,
    everyone, possibly with the exception of teachers, wants a quick fix. The
    politicians want a new curriculum, a new examination, a new school. The
    employers want a new curriculum and a new emphasis. Parents have been told they
    have choice so they want a new school that promises all they want. None of these
    things are going to ‘fix’ education. As a secondary school teacher I learnt
    that it takes 5 years to find out if what you are doing is right, 5 years for a
    student to progress through school and take their examinations and be the person
    they can be. No one now wants to wait 5 years, no one does before the next big
    idea comes along. Teachers understand this need to tread slowly, to make
    marginal gains, for they know the responsibility of the end result and after
    all they are the ones who have the most intimate relationships with the
    learners. To teachers children are more than a
    percentage point, a grade or a statistic, they are people. If teachers
    are truly in charge of young minds would you not want them to be responsible
    custodians and resist what they see and know as foolish, quick fixes foisted on
    our education system? I think you would.

    The name of my own company reflects this aspiration of
    making marginal gains within what for many is a toxic environment. Advocating
    Creativity is about finding ways to approach the problems we have in education
    in a manageable, sustainable and informed way.
    Ellen Langer promotes the concept of ‘mindful learning’ and I for one
    fully support this way of changing our education system. The first step however
    is to trust the teachers to do their job, after all its more of a vocation than
    a job to many. We also need to recruit and retain those best suited to
    teaching, and no it’s not always those with the best qualifications. I have
    researched what makes a good teacher and much is about emotional intelligence,
    EQ and not IQ. We need to agree what education is for and about and then let the
    profession deliver, for they will since failing to do so impacts on them every
    day of their teaching career and they must face the outcomes up front and face
    to face.

    I have almost completed my research, if one can ever do
    that, and the first part of the trilogy is available to those who are
    interested in how we can bring about real attainment by making small changes.
    The first part is aimed at the teacher and is called ‘Understanding Learning
    Needs’. It is a ‘clear, concise and jargon free’ practical reflection on the
    role of the teacher and how they can meet the needs of their learners. Topics
    such as motivation, engagement, mindful learning, independent learners and the
    danger of labelling learners are covered and there are reflective tasks to be
    explored. It is ideal for teachers of all experiences and a great companion for
    those involved in mentoring for it promotes dialogue and discussion. Best of
    all it does not require the setting up of a new school, a new curriculum or
    examination system to implement the ideas and practices I suggest are at the
    heart of good teaching and learning. The second and third books are on the
    stocks and cover learning from the learners perspective and that of those
    supporting learners. I hope I will get
    the encouragement to complete these works from the feedback I receive from
    Understanding Learning Needs and the other resources available on my website.

    Understanding Learning Needs is an e-book in PDF format
    (Kindle friendly) available from as are the other resources in the series of
    ‘Teaching Ideas’.

  • lpritzker

    So well done! Your five points are right on target!

    Lucy Pritzker, MS

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  • john

    Homeschoolers left these government schools in the dust years ago.

  • bcallahan45

    It takes an hour to get to my school. I must leave my house by 6:30 so I can get there on time. Every morning I pass the same group of adolescents waiting for the bus that will take them to the local public school. No matter what the weather is – hot or cold – they are huddled together as if they need to hold each other up. This article mentions the importance of sleep. I think we sometimes underestimate its importance when we approve of split sessions, etc. when young adults must get up so early and arrive rested and ready for learning.

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    hi……i agree to this that the schools also give much importance to the students to live in right place to educate them and motivate them….If they are i a right place and get a right person to educate them, automatically they ll be outstanding…..

  • Mitch

    First sentence – state something like its common sense than no-one can argue against you. Definitely too much Ken Robinson untruths being sprouted here. No the current school structure is not broken and no it does not look like an industrial age factory. I also dislike the ‘common sense’ that the chaotic creativity of kindergarten is something that should be replicated at high school. What evidence do you have that deeper thinking is going on there?
    5 Criteria
    1. I love project-based learning. Unfortunately students need good individual learning skills, good problem solving skills and a thorough knowledge base before meaningful projects can be completed. This requires smaller tasks ie. exercises and, heaven forbid, some rote learning
    2. Yes standardised tests are definitely a problem and directly affects the ability of the teacher to teach to their or the students strengths, weaknesses or interests
    3. Boloney! It is not backed up by evidence. Teenagers may WANT to start later (so they can stay up later) but the 830 class is always the most productive and goes down during the day.
    4. Wow great private school propaganda. Many school’s have expanded their pastoral care programs in recent years to much expense I might add
    5. Yes most parents don’t know much about education but unfortunately they’re who politicians are listening to

  • Joe

    Do people who write these articles about how schools need to change offer ideas that are practical? Personally I’d be willing to shift the school day by 2 1/2 hours to accommodate the sleep cycle of high school kids. Kids would finish their sports and other after school activities at 7:00 pm and be home by 7:30 pm. Dinner at 8:00 pm, go to bed at 11:00 and get ready for school the next day by 8:00 am. I would just get to school at my normal time and do the work I normally do after school before school. As a parent I’d also be willing to go with this schedule.

    Any other takers?


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  • Quentajia Small

    I think that the areas mentioned to change would dramatically change our schools for the better. I like the climte of change section the most. If kids don’ t think their teachers care enough to remember their names I do think that could have a negative effect on how they work in that class.

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  • iaviator

    The five “criteria” listed as part of Challenge Success recipe are neither new nor novel and are not consistent with the premise that great changes are needed in schools.

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  • jane

    All this talk of changing the school day…if you actually considered how much learning time takes places in a school…maybe four hours at best. A better use of time would result in greater learning and time for students to pursue their interests as well as time for play, sports, etc.

    How to do this…combine content areas, block schedules, more independent learning. I homeschopl and my son is usually done with his work in a few hours. He has six hours of tkd a week, art classes, gardening, etc in addition to ‘school work’ . We finished the fifth grade math curriculum two weeks ago, fifth grade spelling this week, and are moving on to sixth grade.

  • Robyn

    How about just change to Montessori? It is all this and more and had been around working astoundingly well for 100 years. No need to reinvent the wheel.

  • Sharon Pallatt

    I absolutely agree! I started later in life, but taught in the public school system for 11 years. I loved teaching Kindergarten because the kids were so excited about learning. Later in their years of education that excitement was gone. Why? Levine is onto something!

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  • You will be able to control your class well and gain
    more respect if you learn the students’ names early on. If you have a poor
    memory for names, I have all my students hold up name cards and take a picture
    of them on the first day of class. On the second class, I impress them by
    showing them that I know all their names.

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  • Bryan Gibson

    Excellent article, even though I am just now discovering it years later. Just shows that this shift in educational philosophy still needs to change. I agree wholeheartedly in the scheduling principle. Someone, somewhere, must have thought it would be easier for kids to be at school before parents needed to be at work.

    One belief I have that some may disagree with is that giving children 1-3 hours of homework (sometimes every night) is a joke. I think kids should be able to go home and relax and focus on other things such as their family. I know from personal experience that homework time turns us against each other, trying to get everyone to settle in long enough to concentrate on their work for an additional hour or more after they just spent 7 hours in a classroom. Most people in the work place don’t go home and spend that much time working at home, and those who do end up getting burned out before too long.

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