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Tim McClung

You mentioned homeschooling at the end of this post and I was curious if you had read Clark Aldrich's book,
Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education?

Speaking of dramatic shifts, what about Kim Farris-Berg's new book about teachers having full autonomy.


Gary Houchens

Tim I'm not familiar with either of these books but will definitely take a look. Thanks for the recommendations!


This is a VERY powerful post. Thank you for your leadership.

Jennifer Adams

Another book to add:

"Teaching Minds"

Bob Collier

You might be interested in the work of Judy Breck. Sadly, she died last year, but her websites are still online.



John Stewart

As a teacher, I can imagine how school has developed to deliver learning, but that technology has now developed to do the same thing outside of schools. (Of course, families are still going to need daycare.)
However, the fact that both mom and dad has to work now, that health care costs more, that employment isn't steady and that there are a lot more single moms are all reasons why school has become so much more expensive and that achievement has not grown.
The increase in school spending matches the decline in parenting that used to be done at home.

Gary Houchens

John, I think you raise a good point. The decline of the family has definitely made the work of education harder. I also think a key factor is that the mission and purpose of education has changed dramatically in recent decades, from ranking and sorting students to trying to ensure every child reaches proficiency in core skills and knowledge. It stands to reason that a lot more resources would be required for this new mission and that success would be much harder to reach.

I think Elmore's point, though (at least as I interpret it) is that the problem isn't a lack of resources but that the structures of schooling are still organized for the old purpose of Education and will never succeed, no matter how much money we spend. Moreover, institutional and policy structures help ensure that the system will never change, and therefore will ultimately fail.

Bruce Smith

Given your interest in "seemingly radical" approaches, I wonder if you have studied the Sudbury model. I blog about Sudbury and other topics at http://writelearning.wordpress.com, and the original Sudbury school has a rich website at www.sudval.org. Dr. Peter Gray also writes a Sudbury-friendly blog called Freedom to Learn at the Psychology Today website (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn).

I would very much like to connect with you regarding this post and our respective professional paths.

Gary Houchens

Hi, Bruce. I've actually just only recently learned about the Sudbury model and would be eager to find out more. E-mail me at [email protected] so we can discuss further.

Barry Kort

Apostasy is the new normal in many traditional cultural models and practices.


As a joyful advocate of the Montessori model, I can wholehearted agree with this post. Intelligence is not rare, and our children are born ready to learn. Impressions do not just enter the child's mind, they literally form it.

Sally Goddard Blythe, director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology, has said that "each child's brain is designed to follow an orderly, predictable inter-related sequence of development, facilitated through maturation and entrained through interaction with the environment." Our job, as adults, is to provide the kind of activities and environments that can accurately match biologically driven requisites during each stage of development.

Absolutely amazing things happen when we are able to do this!!!

Michael Strong

It is great to see someone from within the establishment acknowledge so frankly the limitations of the existing model. I've worked in public schools and created both private and charter schools, and I've concluded that the structure itself prevents deep reforms from taking place.

See my sequence of guest posts at the "Bleeding Heart Libertarians" blog for a vision for how we can help all children going forward,


Dirk Wright


The original Sudbury School. Everything you wanted to know about the model can be found there or at similar schools. We are starting one in Virginia.

Mike Sadofsky

Yes indeed, I'll cast another vote for Sudbury Valley School http://www.sudval.org (and schools like it - you can find links to many of them at the SVS website) as an effective model for the future.

Terry Freeman

I notice that Larry Cuban - a researcher who strongly supports government provision of education - nonetheless reports that reform efforts have been hugely unsuccessful.

Is it time to ask if the entire model is wrong, from top-to-bottom, because of the Economic Calculation Problem? That is, can a bureaucratic structure properly respond to new knowledge, new technology, new experiences?

A few years back, I happened to look at an Amish classroom, which is very similar to any government classroom in America - or, for that matter, almost all private-school classrooms. I thought to myself, if the provision of transportation had improved at the same pace, we'd now be driving blinged-out horse-drawn buggies, equipped with spinner rims and GPS systems, but still traveling at the same plodding pace provided by one- or two-horsepower of the old-fashioned four-footed variety.

For 150 years, we've experimented with government control of education. Why not unshackle the amazing creative powers of children, teachers, and parents?

Gary Houchens

Tim, thanks for your comments. I'm with you - the model of traditional schooling is very difficult to break, and even most non-governmental models just replicate the same structure. But consumer demand will cause an eventual shift, and government-run schools are ill-equipped to respond. Let's empower families to make their own educational choices, and we'll have a much better shot at flourishing innovations.


Until schools begin to cater to individuals as the marketplace does, they will fail. The industrial age is over. Fitting into a box to get that secure, well paying career is over.

Students seek a customized education since everything else in their lives is customized to their interests and their needs. Education will need to implode and be rebuilt to allow for flexibility, autonomy, and freedom to pursue individual goals.

Many of us have left teaching for those same reasons. Unfortunately, students don't have that choice.

Charter schools and Common Core are not a fix. They are merely a spin on traditional schooling. Until true freedoms for students and teachers are implemented, there will be no improvement.

Terry Freeman

One of my takeaways from the Wired article about Correa's class is this: ten of his students jumped to the 99.99th percentile rank on Mexico's standardized math test. Were they all direct lineal descendants of Karl Friedrich Gauss? I think not. I think they learned a lot more math than their peers, a lot more quickly, a lot more deeply.

This doesn't surprise me. I homeschooled my two children, and they homeschool their nine. One might argue that I have "good math genes" which passed along very nicely to both children and grandchildren, but still - one of my grandsons knew the following at age 6: negative numbers, fractions, decimals, exponents, binary arithmetic, and cryptography. He could do all the arithmetic which is known by high school graduates, and in just two more years (at age 8) tested at the 18th grade equivalent on the Woodcock Johnson math tests.

Home schoolers in general tend to score well above national averages. The larger the numbers, the less plausible the "self-selection" or "cream-skimming" hypotheses.

More to the point, if you watch what home-schoolers actually do, you'll see something qualitatively different. Their methods are highly adaptive; they take into account the abilities and interests of the individual child; they are fast and efficient. Children, in short, are treated as budding geniuses - and many respond very well. These results are robust, not dependent upon socio-economic status.

Another way to look at it is this: home-school parents are doing what parents of high-socioeconomic status tend to do already: read to their children, have conversations with their children, talk informally about math and other topics on a frequent basis. These small and frequent nudges tend to have a large cumulative impact. Home schoolers consciously practice what others might already do as a matter of habit and cultural upbringing.

I don't believe my parents set out to create a math whiz, but some of my earliest memories about math involve counting and making rolls of 50 pennies. My mother gave me a few tips about how to count in groups of 2 and 10, which stuck. I never had any problem with the "place value" concept.


While the form and structure of the learning process is important, the greatest break-down in our nation's education system is hi lighted in a woman's comment from above, that families will still need daycare due to increased living expenses. I cannot state strongly enough that the view that school was ever supposed to be any sort of day care is inherently wrong. Families are supposed to raise children, not institutions. And, families are not forced to become 2 income families due to increased costs of basics but increased ideas of what basics are. Americans have forgotten what is most important in life and the raising of children. A second income to pay for what we think are basics is what needs to change. More families together. That's what raises children well.

E Tavit

I appreciate the comments here by Elmore, and would like to point out that John Holt spoke out against the usefulness of compulsory public education from 1967 until his death in 1985. Holt has published more than 10 books on this topic, and associated with A. S Neill and the formation of the Sudbury school referred to in an earlier post. I left my teaching job last year to homeschool our 2 children in responsive to the totally ineffecitve and archic model of education to which our millions of students are subjected. The death of public education would liberate our kids. A future with out compulsory publiceducation has endless possibilites. Thanks for the discussion. BT

Ellen Pitts

I have looked at the Sudbury School model in the past and recognize the potential for such a program. While its easy to see the problems with institutionalized education, solutions are what have been scarce. I like the Sudbury model because it is inexpensive (tuition is in line with what publics spend per student) and so could be run as a charter. With the median income of American households at $50k, homeschooling as a norm is not really going anywhere.


Good post. Have you read The Leipzig Connection?

Institutional schooling was never about education.

Also see www.TheUlimateHistoryLesson.com for a weekend with John Taylor Gatto.


* Sorry, typo: www.TheUltimateHistoryLesson.com

David Quinn

Schools are working for many kids but not for many others. In my local high school every year hundreds of kids take challenging classes and are well prepared for college and future life. It's our local school. You don't have a right to ruin that because of problems other kids are having.

Maybe some other school type or method will work with kids that "high school" does not work for. Fine, establish it as an alternative.

In any activity at all, some kids will do better than others. This is true of schooling and it will always be true, as long as we are willing to measure and assess levels of quality. It is not unfair if the results are unequal. But I am willing to have a discussion about what alternative program will work at the high school level for those kids who cannot benefit from what is there now.

Tonia Gibson

I worked at a school in Australia where the courageous new Principal 'banned' the bell and turned the school day on its head. A nice long recess for the kids mid-morning and a shorter one in the afternoon.
Parents were incredibly concerned that the bell wouldn't ring at the beginning or end of recesses - how would their kids know to go inside, how would they know when to eat their lunch, how would they know when the end of the school day was?

It turned out to be a small revelation though in that the school itself, and the way the students no longer 'reacted' to the sound of the bell meant a much calmer approach to breaks during the day (no more whooping for joy of being 'let out' or running to the playground to get somewhere first..).

The longer break in the morning meant that we had two clear hours from 9am to immerse the children in learning - then another 2 hour block (after the morning break) while the kids were still engaged and energized after free play. The afternoon was used for hands-on/reflective or research activities - self directed learning for most classes...

Learning data over 3 years improved. Parent, student AND teacher satisfaction improved over 3 years.

Small changes. Huge successes for that school community.

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