As parents, we all want what is best for our children and a good education is high on the priority list. Since “education” is so important, how should it be defined? How do we know if we are giving our children a good education? If they are getting good grades and not getting in trouble, does that define “getting a good education?” Or should a good education be defined as becoming a lifelong independent learner who embraces difficult questions with eagerness and personal character. One of my favorite thought leaders is Andy Andrews and he suggests that parenting decisions should be geared toward raising good adults. The framework of raising good adults brings new meaning to education since what they do as children should equip them will skills that will be useful for a lifetime.
In an effort to understand the educational needs of our community, I turned to a well-known expert named Google. I mostly came across sad statistics showing that American students rank 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading compared to students in 27 industrialized countries. Less than 46 percent of American students finish college. The U.S. ranks last among 18 countries measured on this indicator. More than 75 percent of employers report that new employees with four-year college degrees lacked “excellent” basic knowledge and applied skills. Bringing it to a local level, I learned that New Mexico is ranked 49th in the nation and received a D on the state report card.
The book The Public School Advantage by Christopher A. Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski reviewed two huge datasets of student mathematics performance and found that public school students outperform private school students, when adjusted for demographics. They noted that although private schools have more operational autonomy, this autonomy is too often used to maintain outdated strategies. Their research indicated that private school students are more likely than their public school counterparts to sit in rows, complete math worksheets and believe that mathematics is mostly memorizing facts. When I read statics like these, what I have felt in my heart all along is validated – there has to be a better way to educate our children.
A positive trend I noted was that many experts are recognizing the power of project and self-paced school environments. Finland’s children for example, rank much higher than the United States children in overall academic prowess. What are they doing that we aren’t? It’s simple — by going against the evaluation-driven, centralized model that much of the Western world uses. They don’t start formal education until 7 and testing and homework don’t even enter the scene until the teenage years. One of the experts, Professor Howard Gardner of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, said, “Learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools and which does just about the opposite of what we are doing in the United States.”
When I found Acton Academy, their philosophy resonated with me in a powerful way. Everything about their program revolutionized the status quo and it gave me hope in a better educational model for my children. There are five philosophies of Acton Academy that inspired me to start this journey.
1. Acton Eagles go beyond the textbook to study topics based on real-world issues, such as discussing science through exploring water quality in our community or applying math skills to start a business or writing a menu or persuasive marketing piece to sell the produce from the school garden. Project-based classwork is more demanding than traditional book-based instruction, where students may just memorize facts from a single source. Instead, students master principles covered in traditional courses but learning them in more meaningful ways. Student work is presented to audiences beyond the teacher, including parents, and community groups.
2. Acton Eagles reach across traditional disciplines and explore their relationships. History, science, literature, and art are interwoven and studied together through theme based projects called quests.
3. Acton Eagles learn the skills of collaborating, managing emotions, and resolving conflicts in groups. The Acton student body is governed by a contract, a set of guidelines, they all agree to and develop collectively. Students are incentivized by earning badges and eagle bucks again correlating back to the real world.
4. Acton Academy teaching staff will coach and guide students through the learning process, giving special attention to nurturing a student’s interests and self-confidence. Because Acton Academy uses 21st Century learning tools such as Kahn Academy, No Red Ink, and other online applications teachers can spend more time mentoring students as individuals and tutoring them in areas in which they need help.
5. Acton Academy Eagles will be inspired to launch a heroes’ journey to find a calling that will change the world. Acton Academy believes in building character and virtue which seem to be lost concepts in many public arenas.
Reinventing education is not easy but the payoff is huge! If you are ready to join a community of likeminded parents and students, we encourage you to explore our web site and setup a personal meeting. I look forward to the fall semester and meeting all our new Acton families.