The Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering will serve as a model school in a new joint venture between Teachers College and the government of the Dominican Republic to improve that nation's educational system.
The president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, announced the venture during his World Leaders Forum visit to Columbia on Sept. 25. Fernandez addressed students and faculty at the Columbia Secondary School and met with the Teachers College administration before speaking in Low Library, where he placed special emphasis on his commitment to education reform in the Dominican Republic. He cited a newly formulated partnership between Teachers College and the Dominican government as part of an effort to revamp the country’s educational system.
Fernández congratulated Teachers College for its research on teaching methods, and specifically mentioned Deanna Kuhn, a psychology and education professor who will lead the Teachers College portion of the partnership. Kuhn is the author of the book Education for Thinking, in which she advocates for “higher order intellectual skills, notably inquiry, and argumentation as what kids will really be able to take with them and use in their lives beyond school.”
At the Columbia Secondary School, which opened in the fall of 2007, Principal Jose Maldonado, TC ’98, built a curriculum featuring Kuhn’s method. “We are the laboratory school,” Maldonado said, “We’re the site where some of these great ideas from Teachers College are being implemented.” A primary aim of the unique curriculum, according to Maldonado, is to develop students’ reasoning skills in place of rote learning.
“Most middle school level courses are miles wide and inches deep, and the level of understanding is superficial,” he said. “The enrichment courses and electives are provided to allow students depth in their education ... Dr. Kuhn’s philosophy course on argument and inquiry [offered at Columbia Secondary School] is something that’s not done anywhere else in the nation.”
The school offers a wider range of courses and subjects than most public schools, and supports travel abroad in an effort to expand students’ interests beyond traditional disciplines.
According to Kuhn, Fernández and his ministers read her book and felt that her ideas lay parallel to their goals for education reform in the Dominican Republic. “They approached me and asked if they could explore a possible collaboration,” she said, “And since he was coming to New York, Fernández said, ‘Well, I’d like to visit the school where you are doing this.’”
Talks between Fernández, Kuhn, the Teachers College administration, and Dominican ministers also resulted in plans for the Dominican Republic’s government to use the Columbia Secondary School as a template for a Dominican pilot school, which would inform a larger restructuring of the system. “In conjunction with their people, I would assist in the implementation, and advise on it,” Kuhn said.
Collaboration will include a teacher exchange program and visits by Teachers College officials, including Kuhn, to aid in the Dominican schools’ development.
“I’ve proposed that they send four interns here for spring semester to see what we do,” Kuhn said. “So we’ll see if that happens.”
Published Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008