The New Koch School

This blog entry is in reaction to the following Miami Herald news story: “Koch family to open a new kind of private school: No teachers, no homework, no grades”.

Although I like many of the ideas here, I have a number of criticisms about this particular school.

  1. It’s funded by the Koch family, which immediately raises a wide range of suspicions:
    • This is just another example of how the elite are undermining public schools.
    • In addition to undermining public schools, other agendas must be at play. It’s too soon to figure out what these may be.
  2. The approach described here is typical of the old bandwagon-approach. They co-opt the terminology without any deep understanding of the meanings and theoretical frameworks behind the terms. The whole thing becomes a cookbook approach with no real substance.
  3. Doing away with “teachers” is perplexing. They are using some of the metaphors used to describe the roles of teachers, but they seem to be skipping the “part” about what teacher understand about these roles and the equivalent roles of children. Talking about just the roles of teachers is what Gregory Bateson referred to as a “half-assed” approach. In addition, teachers bring a wealth of knowledge about pedagogy, learning, development, conceptual content, and so forth. I suspect this new school will have people with inadequate educational backgrounds.
  4. Implementing a radical and progressive approach to schooling requires a great deal of support for the teaching staff. Without ongoing education, inquiry, reflection, and other forms of support, such approaches are destined to fail. It’s like sending people onto the International Space Station, because they think it’d be cool. With no training and no preparation of any kind, they’re not going to succeed.
  5. No homework is a good idea with some exceptions. Research has shown that homework has little effect on learning or achievement. This is especially true of the drill and practice homework that typifies the approach. However, “homework” that is student-driven can be quite helpful. Such homework involves carrying out inquiry and projects that are driven by student questions, interests, and curiosity. This type of homework is not drudgery and is based on capitalizing on children’s motivation.
  6. No grades is good if the right kind of environment and contexts are created. If you just go into this and say that there are no grades, the whole thing can crumble. It’s happened before. But, if one creates contexts that support self and peer evaluation as a matter of course and as a necessary step in the student processes of knowledge production, then grades are not necessary and, in fact, are detrimental.
  7. All the rest of the stuff they mention is just further evidence of the cookbook approach, which is more like stew than some fancy dish. They just throw everything into the pot and hope it turns out. The other ideas are fine, but again they have no deep or extensive theoretical foundation.

To pull off a radical and progressive approach needs a great deal of planning and learning. You really need thoroughly mapped out theoretical and philosophical frameworks (the theory and philosophy must be highly compatible, too). Such frameworks must be used to guide all decisions, all actions, and all thinking about the schooling context.

I suspect this school will either fall apart within the first 2 or 3 years or it will transform back into a typical status quo school for the elite.

About Jeff Bloom

I'm a Researcher with and am on the Advisory Board of the International Bateson Institute and am a professor emeritus with the Department of Teaching & Learning, College of Education, Northern Arizona University.
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