A fascinating new micro school has been making significant strides in Arizona. Prenda is like the Splenda of schooling. An alternative to the traditional government-run school.
What’s different about this new method of schooling? For starters it is placed in the homes, offices, or studios of the coaches or mentors. This not only shifts the old classroom setting, desks lined up facing the front of the classroom. It also eliminates the need for specific degrees or credentials for those who are willing to connect with young people.
There is a valid concern about the qualifications of those doing the teaching. Not everyone is qualified to teach. However, the elimination of certifications opens the door for very skilled workers in fields outside of education.
What else is different? The three-year range in school composition. For example, a child in second grade can work with those in fourth grade. There are no age restrictions. Rather, the learning readiness of the child determines where they are placed. One might extend this principle even further. Why should a third grader not be placed with eight graders if he or she can read at that level?
The school day for Prenda children is also unique. It is broken into three parts: conquer, collaborate, and create. This gives students a sense of control over their education. During the conquer period children set goals for the basics: writing, math, science, and reading. Then they move to the next phase, collaborate, where students work with their peers to select projects that are of interest to them. For example, if the class focus is on India, students can then select the economics, history, or arts of India and study that aspect of the country. Then the day shifts to create, where students create an entire project that fits their interest, making a presentation and fielding questions after completing their research. This approach seems promising.
Of course, taxpayers will want to know how this is funded. Education savings accounts and partnering with charter schools is the answer. The funding is split between Prenda and the selected school. However, an attractive aspect of this new educational concept is the elimination of administrative staff and the building payments, resulting in an average cost per student is only $5,500—a fraction of the costs of traditional public schooling.
But what about the concern that the schools siphon funding from traditional public schools? Again, this is a lower-cost alternative to the traditional public school model that if managed well should result in a net reduction in education costs.
States other than Arizona are also experimenting with promising new educational models. In Mississippi, “Districts of Innovation” legislation allowed one Superintendent to dramatically transform Corinth, Mississippi, schools. Lee Childress revised the school calendar, extending the year to 210 days. He also revised the curriculum based on the Cambridge Education system, which is more rigorous than the state-approved curriculum, improved graduation requirements by offering seven different diplomas, planned a new compensation system for teachers, and offered externships to students with local businesses.
The results are clear. Educational choices provide the opportunity for better student performance. We must ask the question, If education is all about assuring each child learn, need there be only one way to do it?