Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Smarter Way to Start a School

Elitist that I am, I care deeply about improving education for the intellectually gifted, those with the greatest potential to solve our problems: from terrorism to cancer to inventing the next Google.

Alas, in today's egalitarian era, educational resources have, especially in elementary schools, been reallocated to the lowest-achievers. For example, ability-grouped classes have so often been replaced by mixed-ability classes, in part so the bright kids can become indentured servants helping low-achieving students. That, of course, denies bright kids of their right to an appropriate-leveled education. For example, even though a bright third-grader may be reading on a fifth grade level, s/he may be required to help classmates with The Cat in the Hat.

For the foreseeable future, the public schools will not likely change, so the main hope is in private schools. It is very difficult to start a private school in the traditional way, but I believe an excellent school can be created far more simply. This model could be used to start a school for any group of students of relatively homogeneous ability.

1. It should be a one-room elementary schoolhouse run by a teacher who would be a transformational teacher and mentor to gifted kids. (No principal is required.)
2. The teacher uses his/her own home as the school. That may seem creepy to some parents, so low-cost alternatives include vacant rooms in churches, community centers, etc.
3. Excellent curriculum is available free on the Net. A portal for such curriculum is THIS article in Duke University's Gifted Newsletter.
4. Students are selected based on an IQ test (a far more validly potent measure of academic ability than critics claim), an interview, and a group activity with other prospective and current students.
5. The curriculum is defined by interactivity, development of critical thinking, writing, leadership, and identification and development of students' passions.
6. The school is set up as an "independent study" or "home school" thereby enabling attendees to meet the state's compulsory education requirement.
7. The only paid staff are the teacher and a part-time administrative assistant. The kids would be in charge of cleaning up.
8. The school might elect to not seek accreditation. That may require too much money and compromise.
9. The tuition can be set low not only because the teacher/principal is using his home but because there's no gym, cafeteria, library, etc. The school provides what counts: great teaching, transformational curriculum, brilliant, good kids--the perfect greenhouse for intellectual, social, and emotional development.

I believe that such a school could be economically viable with 15 students paying $10,000 a year. And with a decent marketing effort (for example, presentations at libraries in locales with high achievers, articles in local newspapers and websites) a great teacher should have little trouble recruiting that many kids. And I believe it could be started in just months.


Anonymous said...

My husband and I have had this same conversation for the last few years. I agree with you that it is doable. However, I find it hard to align with even 4 like minded people whose children would be a good fit with each other, never mind 15. Also, some people aren't ready to make that kind of a leap.
I haven't found anyone ready to do this even though I've had many conversations with people who were done with both public and private schools. Many of us are homeschooling but we do it separately and individually. Once I realized the situation you described wasn't going to materialize, we made things work with homeschooling. I think that is the case with many families who have gifted or twice exceptional children. It will be interesting to see what happens over time as more cuts are made to education and more people become disgusted with what is offered in our schools.

Marty Nemko said...

Anonymous, did you market enough? Most home schoolers aren't marketing oriented. A one-time savvy effort to get the word out about the school you'll be opening should attract sufficient students to start your school. Then, if your school is as good as described in this post, word of mouth should greatly reduce your need to market.

Theresa Lode said...

Homeschoolers are not only not marketing savvy...most of them are so stricken with fear over the "doing enough" issue that they are all too eager to embrace a scope and sequence than identify their child's area of giftedness and tailor their education to meet those needs.
HS'ers from 20 years ago...not so much.
Homeschooling is no longer a new frontier where parents thumb their noses at "accreditation" and standardized tests. It makes me sad and I think many times, the kid might be better in a school...especially because trying to do "School at home" many times negatively impacts the parent/child relationship.
I like your idea, Marty. I think it could work for folks who understand education is more than a scope and sequence.

p said...

Good ideas Marty!

Theresa – In most states home based educators cannot avoid standardized testing as it is mandated. Your point about importing institutional school form and function is outstanding, it truly does rob parents of the freedom to educate in the manor/time they deem fit for their child.

e said...


This is a wonderful idea. I have been chewing over in my mind, for years, the prospect of creating a foreign language daycare/study program. That way, if kids come in from age 2-6, they will become fluent in a language, instead of trying (usually failing) to learn it in high school.

It would also be great (though good luck starting it) to make a school for gifted kids from underpriveleged backgrounds. Can you imagine the confusion? On one hand, people are being "elitist," but they're helping underprivileged kids. Educators wouldn't know whether to applaud or boo.

I think it would take more than one person though. In addition to the teacher, you'd need at least a secretary, and probably someone who does the marketing full time. But I do like your idea.

Marty Nemko said...

Yes, a part-time secretary may be needed, but perhaps that might be most wisely filled by a parent volunteer(s).

e said...

Or by the teacher's spouse.

Sarah said...

My husband and I discussed this idea over the course of a couple of years, and with other frustrated parents. But I believe that such a project will require many dedicated administration hours. We decided to home school; ultimately the decision came down to whether I wanted to create a part-time job for myself as a small private school administrator, or spend that time homeschooling my own children.

wonderaware said...

A school for gifted underprivileged kids would be amazing. I only wish I had one when I was younger, my Intelligence tests in 2nd grade put me at the 99th percentile in a few areas (reading comprehension, English skills) and in the above average in other areas too, and on the high end of average in math (with work, I could have gotten better). Of course, I didn't get that opportunity, floated around in school and never really made much of my potential. Maybe this can inspire me to do something like this for other children? I'm very passionate about teaching gifted children. d

wonderaware said...

Another idea, why not have the parents hire a gifted educator? Parents are not the most objective person when teaching a child and parents must sacrifice work to teach their child. Why not hire a teacher? Of course, this would be for more wealthy people. r

Dave said...

I'm a couple years late on this post, but it sounds like a great "idea". So, who's doing it? Any successes out there? My kids are almost grown, and I'm almost ready to retire from medicine. I have always loved teaching, and think I would enjoy this type of environment. So, someone tell me if you're actually making this work. Dave

Marty Nemko said...

Dear Dave,

I don't know of anyone who's done this. I'd love to see you do so. Done well, the kids and you would benefit inordinately. Keep me posted.

Marty Nemko