Who is New Tech Good For?

September 22, 2010

People often ask me, “What kind of kid is the New Tech model designed for” and not surprisingly I respond, “Almost every kid.”

The question exposes a deep seated misunderstanding … that traditional school models are designed for kids. The reality is that schools have been designed for adults.

Consider that the research is pretty clear that teenaged brains are hard wired to sleep until late morning and do better when they start school later. Yet some high schools start as early as 7:00 am .. about three hours before their brains naturally wake up. Or that many districts forbid using any sort of student feedback for teacher evaluation. Or that, in most school, teachers stay in one place and the students move between 6-8 times to be managed by 6-8 different personalities with 6-8 different peer groups. What child would design a classroom with one window that was covered by a motivational poster? No, traditional school models are not designed for kids, they are designed to manage kids.

A second prejudice revealed by the question is the belief that the traditional environment “works” for most kids and schools like New Tech might only be needed for those few kids who don’t fit.

With drop-out rates approaching 30% nation-wide, a majority of graduates not ready for college or careers, and a feeling by many students that what they are learning in high school is a waste of time, it appears that the question should be posed in the other direction. What kind of kid does well in a traditional school? Compliant with authority figures? Immune to negative peer pressure? Intrinsically motivated to learn state standards (or at least motivated to get good grades)? Independent in nature? This doesn’t sound like many teenagers I know.

Truly, the only effective school model is one is flexible enough to allow each student to find their own path to the learning … schools like New Tech.

Most importantly, I think the question gets to the heart of the New Tech model. Although the New Tech model differs from the traditional model in many ways, it is fundamentally an attempt to redefine what high school graduates know and are able to do. New Tech schools work very hard to fully integrate key skills that traditional schools largely ignore: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, public speaking and effective use of technology.

In the world these students will face, these skills are as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Some students might not like to work in groups, or give oral presentations, or use technology … just as some students don’t like math. I would never willingly put my child in a school that chose not to teach math because I see it as foundational skill for life. Similarly, we should not accept any school that is not working hard to develop the critical college, career and citizenship skills and attitudes needed to fully prepare our students for their future.

So … what kind of kid should attend a New Tech? Any student who will grow up needing to problem solve, learn new knowledge and skills, collaborate with diverse groups of people, use technology effectively to increase productivity, and understand an increasingly complex world. Sounds like pretty much everyone to me.

Photo credit: Jeff Hester