The following design principles guide educators in our portfolio in creating breakthrough schools:
How would school feel different if it were designed, expressly, for equity? Schools designed for equity would challenge our country’s ongoing narrative of disinheritance for some children, based on their race, class, or story. Intentionally equitable schools write a counter-narrative by constructing a school culture of belonging and worth, where children know they are secure and can take risks and push themselves to accomplishment. True equity for children means our aspirations for them and their societal inheritance are not limited by what has come before—either in a child’s life or in the history of our nation. Transformational schools hold sacred this ideal of intentional, equitable education. Teachers and leaders in transformational schools make their own assumptions—about race, students and schools—vulnerable to question. They wrestle with the hardest topics in urban education, such as poverty and discipline policies. And they constantly test school policies and practices in order to build a culture where love and justice thrive. As to children, transformational schools believe in unbounded potential—a future where “nothing is written.”
Commitments to Deep, Personal Learning
What might school look like if we designed it, from the start, to be adaptable, responsive, and challenging for every individual child? Breakthrough schools embrace this design challenge, where educators no longer teach to a standardized average; they no longer move the class forward on a predictable path or pace. Instead, breakthrough schools are structured so that students receive what they need, when they need it, in ways that are personally tailored—slowing down when they need more time, going deeper when their curiosity spikes, even encouraging the pursuit of new interests. In breakthrough schools, teachers set clear and challenging learning goals, but then they distribute the work, making individual students’ own effort and struggle a part of the formula. Students, themselves, take ownership for the pace and pathway of their learning. They solve problems, make choices, and own the sweet victories that follow sustained, dedicated academic effort.
Expansive Measures of Success
Mountain climbers know the danger of pacing only to the “false peak,” the visible, prominent hill preceding (and often obscuring) the actual summit. Schools, too, have their own version of false peaks in annual (mandatory) state accountability tests. These tests matter for uncovering disparities and for tracking progress, but they can distract educators from deeper, more relevant learning goals. In transformational schools, educators embrace an expansive view of success—and how to measure it. Success is measured as cumulative, individualized progress toward mastery of core content knowledge—knowledge that might be demonstrated through original content creation or critical discourse. Transformational schools develop and refine metrics—qualitative and quantitative—to track progress, and they allow for multiple pathways and timetables to reach these goals. Transformational schools also know that some important things cannot be measured. They therefore embolden students and educators to invest time in intangibles, such as student attachment to learning and the creation of robust, tightly-woven community. In transformational schools, state tests are like a climber’s false peak—a non-negotiable to reach and surpass, with ample reserves of stamina and drive left for the summit.