Accelerated Schools at Home and Abroad
Published in TC Today - Volume 24, No. 1
A group of educators and administrators from school districts in New Jersey paid a visit in early November to P.S. 108, an East Harlem elementary school. They wended their way through the hallways, guided by the Assistant Principal, Ingrid Ramos, to classrooms for the different grade levels. Three-dimensional displays on the walls flanked artwork, reports, and dioramas created by both students and teachers.
They came to P.S. 108 with Pilar Soler, Director of TC's satellite center for the Accelerated Schools Project, to meet with the principal and assistant principal. The group wanted to see for themselves what they might expect to happen in their own schools as they change to an Accelerated Schools Project model.
Accelerated schools are based on the premise that students and teachers should be encouraged to think creatively and explore their interests. TC's former Visiting Professor Henry Levin is the founder of the Accelerated Schools Project. They encourage students to obtain knowledge through exploration and discovery and to make connections between school activities and their lives outside the classroom. The success of accelerated schools rests on the model's design, which allows each school to create its own evolving set of learning experiences based on its own unique needs, strengths and vision. The schools are supported by a governance structure and a system that provides trained coaches to work with the school toward its goals. The TC satellite center provides support to P.S. 108 and will also be the regional center for the New Jersey schools.
The appearance of the school and classrooms was fairly typical. P.S. 108 has a predominately Hispanic population with bilingual classes throughout the grade levels. Class sizes, according to Ramos, are very large, some having up to 29 children. Yet, the overall atmosphere was one of enthusiasm. When the visitors entered the classrooms they were politely greeted by attentive, well-behaved boys and girls in uniform saying, "Good morning," in unison. Students were anxious to answer questions posed by teachers, and raised their hands excitedly in response.
"In the classrooms I have seen, the children are enthusiastic," said Mary Kildow, supervisor of funded projects at School 27 in Paterson, New Jersey. "They take responsibility for their own learning." Lorretta Kelly, a facilitator and teacher at School 27, agreed. "In my own experience, when a child is excited about what they are doing, the parent is there, too."
School 27 recently chose the Accelerated Schools Project model for their own school reform project and is in the first year of implementing the change. Principal Aurea Rios said she recommended Accelerated Schools to the staff who voted on the models they had seen. "I chose a model I thought would build on the strengths of the staff," she explained. "They liked the Accelerated Schools Project as opposed to another program because it didn't come in with a pre-set curriculum."
LaGreta Brown, principal of the Red Bank Upper Elementary Middle School in Red Bank, New Jersey, said the faculty in her school overwhelmingly chose the Accelerated Schools Project after listening to presentations by several programs. "We believe it is one of the best tools for increasing the level of instruction in the classroom and increasing the level of knowledge of students," Brown said. "In our research, we found that this model leads to significant gains in learning that is continuous."
After more than five years of developing the methods of the project in their own school, Principal Migdalia Maldonado of P.S. 108 said, "I tell people if a program works in this building, it can work anywhere. When I came here, I felt there was resistance to these kids, that they couldn't do the work because they come from poor neighborhoods." She continued, "We work with a needy population, but it is very rewarding for the teachers. In an accelerated school, the staff comes together to figure out what we are going to do."
In the last five years, student performance at P.S. 108 has improved so much that the school went from 20th to 3rd out of 22 schools in the district, according to Levin.
Hong KongIn the wake of its recent political and social changes, Hong Kong is seeking to adapt its educational system to its changing economy and its integration into the People's Republic of China. One of their goals is to create a system that is compatible with ancient Confucian thought and can help them keep up with a rapidly changing economy.
Some of the faculty of education at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Leslie Lo and Yue-ping Chung, worked with Levin to develop three pilot accelerated schools in Hong Kong. Lo is Director of the Hong Kong Institute of Education Research at CUHK. He received an Ed.D. in social sciences and education from TC in 1992. Chung, the Dean of the Faculty of Education at CUHK, was a student of Levin's at Stanford University.
While Hong Kong has been successful economically, until now human capital, including education and training, has not been a necessary part of that growth. All the country required was a disciplined workforce with basic educational skills. However, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology determined that the country's high economic growth might be impeded as the economy becomes more dependent on the creation of ideas and the production of innovative goods and services. Also, other countries are competing with Hong Kong by producing, at lower costs, many of the goods and services produced there.
Hong Kong's leaders believe that now is the time to change direction and they are concerned about whether their system of education is suited for that kind of change. "The new Chief Executive of Government in Hong Kong, C.H. Tung, made it one of his policy priorities to push for quality school education and an expansion of teacher education," Lo said.
A study done in the United States identified skills that are central to the workplace that schools need to address in addition to traditional cognitive abilities. These workplace skills include initiative, cooperation, working in groups, peer training, evaluation, reasoning, problem-solving, decision-making, obtaining and using information, planning, learning skills, and multicultural skills. In addition, Hong Kong leaders believe that the five dimensions of education stressed by Confucius are also necessary for students to learn. They are the moral, the intellectual, the aesthetic, the communal and the physical dimensions.
The Accelerated Schools model, with its flexibility in allowing each school to create its own learning priorities based on its own vision, impressed Hong Kong educators. It also offered a new perspective on how teaching and learning is done that fit in with the goals of their country.
Levin was asked to develop the project to help Hong Kong rethink what it does educationally, which traditionally has stressed rote memorization and examination. This system has been successful in terms of exam scores, but is authoritarian in nature. Hong Kong educators are interested in creating people who can both memorize and initiate ideas. In that way, they hope to move into a more innovative entrepreneurial way of doing things that information technology requires.
"We started the project and invited colleagues in my faculty to help coordinate the program," Lo said. "We found experienced educators in Hong Kong to receive training from Soler. They became coaches of the Accelerated Schools Program."
The three pilot schools were established to determine how the Accelerated Schools Project model would work in their culture and to see what modifications, if any, would need to be made. "We've proposed a different kind of school that may do some different things rather than go directly to an Accelerated Schools model," Levin said. "International accelerated schools is a new concept," he continued. "We have been reluctant to go in that direction because exporting a model from one country to another doesn't make a lot of sense. It needs a lot of care."
Soon after the three pilot schools began, the project received approximately $9 million to establish 50 more schools. "This is the largest educational grant ever given in Hong Kong," Levin said.
Soler has been meeting with the coaches in Hong Kong and said coaches for the new schools would be coming to the TC satellite center for training. "The main differences are that they will get external coaches, and they will be assigned to a school," Soler said. "They will have a lot of professors engaged in helping the schools in different areas."
Hong Kong's educators are concerned with encouraging the people to work together for the good of the country. According to Levin, the goal of the Accelerated Schools Project in Hong Kong will allow that culture to begin, in an educational setting, to shift away from depending on authority for direction and allow people to determine common interests and goals to meet their needs. As students gain these skills in the classroom, they will be better able to bring them into other social arenas to allow Hong Kong to maintain its ability to compete globally.previous page