What would my ideal school look like?

The Royalston Digital School doesn't exist. It's a fictitious school on which I occasionally jot down notes about the optimal use of technology to enhance education. This is part 1 of a 2-part series on how such a school could change the way we look at secondary education.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

The Royalston Digital School doesn't exist. It's a fictitious school on which I occasionally jot down notes about the optimal use of technology to enhance education. It's how my ideal school would look, without any government mandates or regulations, providing a rigorous, individualized education in a way that can only be enabled with heavy use of technology.

I got to talking with my 7-year old about it the other night (he'd like to be the principal) and, believe it or not, he not only understood what I'd be aiming for with the school, but helped me crystallize some thoughts and actual implementation details. Since most of us are moving a bit more slowly than usual over the holidays, I figured I'd share my thoughts. Read on and then tell me how you'd improve my school.

The school, unfortunately, would need to be private. I thought about a charter school, where the mission centered around differentiated instruction through technology, but realized that even charter schools still required too much accountability to the Commonwealth and the federal government. Not that accountability is a bad thing, but I want to be accountable to the kids and their parents, providing what each student needs when he or she is enrolled in my school, not what NCLB or any other mandates dictate.

That being said, the school would need to be as affordable as possible. I'm thinking corporate sponsorship combined with a sliding tuition scale based on ability to pay. This is the other reason that the school needs to be private. A local tech school managed to raise eyebrows by simply partnering with Dell, Redken, and other companies to bring in modern, relevant equipment and supplies. Corporate sponsorship? I don't think that's going to happen in the public sector, just yet, despite financial needs in this model that simply can't be accommodated by public funding.

This begs the question, what could companies get out of sponsoring a small private school? I should add that I'd be looking to start the school serving 7th and 8th grades only because

  1. Middle school stinks no matter how you cut it;
  2. Middle school is a vital transitional time, emotionally, academically, and physically;
  3. 7th and 8th graders hit middle school at wildly disparate developmental points, making a cookie cutter approach untenable; and
  4. A 7th- and 8th-grade-centered curriculum would allow the school to accommodate advanced 5th and 6th graders and struggling 9th and 10th graders, with the goal of graduating heterogeneous students well-prepared for a rigorous high school curriculum.

This still doesn't answer the sponsorship question, though. Or does it? What could a corporation like Canonical, Microsoft, or Dell get out of sponsoring a technology-infused school for middle-school aged children? Sure, it's a tax writeoff and it's great PR. The company gets to "reaffirm its commitment to education." Whatever. What really happens is a long-term investment in a bright, savvy, well-prepared workforce. Injecting money into a high school can get equipment in, but injecting money at a key transitional time in students' lives would make for a very different high school experience, whether for the gifted who can leap ahead, the strugglers who can take the time they need, or the mainstream who can simply experience a level of rigor and individual attention they might have missed.

Now we're talking about companies investing in a pretty significant experiment that may not pay dividends for several years as cohorts of students pass through the Royalston Digital School, through high school, and then enter college or the workforce. How many students, though, who get lost in middle school, never find success in high school and beyond? How many of these students will be ceding jobs to their overseas counterparts?

A small investment at this level would ideally translate into a "trickle-up" effect as well. If the model I'm suggesting actually worked, wouldn't it make sense that students and parents would demand it in high school, as well? Corporate sponsorship of a secondary school (grades 6-12) could ultimately feed a highly-skilled labor pool into high-tech and knowledge industries. I'm not talking indoctrination or creating little [insert local tech company name here, e.g., Dell] drones who can go work at the local [insert local tech company name here, e.g., Dell] plant. I'm talking about raising the bar of preparedness with rigorous curricula and heavy use of technology throughout the school such that graduating seniors are utterly qualified to go onto higher education in STEM fields or enter the workforce directly with significant skill.

So what exactly is the model I'm proposing? I've waved my arms a bit about individualized instruction, but where am I really headed? There are a few key elements that would make this school exciting and just might be a game changer for a lot of students.

Click here to find out more and read the next article in this 2-part series.

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