December 05, 2005

The Education Innovator

USDE enlarged logo.jpgThe Education Innovator, a publication of the U.S. Office of Education, presents news of educational reform, change, and department activities. Almost every issue features a tradition-breaking school in some detail. Policy, arts education, technology, private schools, charter schools, innovative programs, funding opportunities and the like arrive in an attractive weekly email. This useful source with access to much other information can be subscribed to at no cost.

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 03:29 PM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2005

Amazing Learning Alternative

In the most unlikely of places, the Chugach School District in Alaska won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige award, one of three districts to ever win it. The award created by Congress recognizes extreme examples of quality. The tiny Chugach district, consisting of three remote villages, each with fewer than 30 students K-12 plus homeschooling, over a period of eight years changed its graduation rate from zero to 70%, reduced annual teacher turnover from 50% to 5%, raised achievement scores from the mid-20s to the mid-70s, and restored hope among parents for their children.

Report card grades were abolished in favor of competency achievement. They work smart and are enormously dedicated to performance. They spend 30 days per year on staff development, use progressive methods of instruction and involve students in community-based learning. Much can be learned from their example and their amazing story.
Chugach schools.jpg

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 08:23 PM | Comments (0)

November 21, 2005

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning (also called hands on learning, learning by doing) is found in all levels of schooling seeking better ways of engaging students. Many alternative programs use the philosophy of experiential learning as a foundation. A considerable body of research supports experiential approaches for achieving the broad aims of education as well as basic skill acquisition.

Several sources of information provide definitions, research, practices, examples and other useful data. The Association for Experiential Education and the National Society for Experiential Education are fine sites for further information.
Experiential cartoon.jpg

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 02:45 PM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2005

Radical Changes Proposed

The Education Forum, a publication from New Zealand, frequently covers changes in Great Britian, Australia and other Commonwealth nations. The most recent issue Hot topics.gif reviewed "radical reforms" promoted by the British Government that would reverse central control for local autonomy of curriculum and policies. Parents would be given choices and other organizations (such as colleges and businesses) could operate elementary and secondary schools.

Another article, "Reform Ideal for All Classes" cites the slow pace of change and lack of educational choices in Australia. It calls for the government to note options given parents in other nations and the good results of providing choices.

The Education Forum can be subscribed to (free) for news on educational change issues.

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

July 31, 2005

Examples of Educational Alternatives

Alternatives come in many types. Here are four alternatives--unusual and extraordinary public schools with links for more information:
Jennings Experiential High School takes its urban students on two 35 day overseas trips, this year to Costa Rica and Ghana, West Africa. There they perform community service and study many aspects of the environment. They prepare for the trips with five weeks of intensive study.
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Minnesota New Country School (7-12) and River Heights Charter School (9-12) contract for staffing and other services with a cooperative of teachers. Students study topics of personal interest using the project method for learning.
Village School of Northfield (K-12) gives staff and students a vote about all aspects of the school. They follow the Sudbury model of permitting students to follow their interests at their own pace.Studio 4.jpg
High School for Recording Arts (9-12)joins a school with a commercial recording arts business, Studio 4. Their high-need students enroll because of an interest in popular music, hence the nickname, Hip Hop High. Records have been distributed nationally.

These experiential learning examples show the diversity among educational alternatives that parents, students and staff can choose from. Extending school choices for learning is the mission of IALA. This website's purpose is to promote thoughtful examination of the one-size-fits-all philosophy so much the central tenet of traditional education. We wish to assist policy makers and others who recognize the benefits of providing an array of educational choices.

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 11:32 AM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2005

School Reform from England

Ed Heretics Press.jpg
Roland Meighan of Bramcote Hills, Nottingham, England and his group, Educational Heretics Press publish hard hitting commentary on conventional schooling. Their newsletter, The Journal of Personalized Education Now, describes the harsh reality of traditional practices on the human spirit and learning. You won't find more radical writing about education than with their publications including the extraordinarily thoughtful 2005 book, Comparing Learning Systems: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Counter-Productive. They provide descriptions of new approaches to learning, vision statements, principles, alternatives to schools, critiques on testing, book reviews, upcoming conferences and more. They offer many books including several hard-to-find volumes.

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 08:39 AM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2005

Toolkit for Creating New High Schools

Jobs for the Future has a helpful guide, Building a Portfolio of High Schools: A Strategic Investment Toolkit for helping communities think through and complete a set of exercises to design new and successful high schools that serve all students. Presents a rationale for changing traditional high school so that low students do not fall through the cracks, complete school and are prepared for their next stage in life. The book establishes a framework for a study team that guides their decision making.

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 02:05 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2005

New Schools Venture Fund

This new type of an organization, a nonprofit, describes their role as:New Schools Venture Fund.jpg

"NewSchools Venture Fund™ believes that all children are entitled to an education that will serve them well in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.

... NewSchools stands alongside education, business, nonprofit, and policy leaders working to transform the K-12 public education system that exists today.

Our approach is powerful, unique and proven. We raise early-stage capital from institutional and individual donors, and we invest it in nonprofit and for-profit ventures led by promising education entrepreneurs who are creating high-quality, scalable solutions that address the most critical problems facing education. And, because education is complex and change-averse, we fortify our positions with thought leadership designed to foster an environment that is conducive to high performance and to real change."

Their website provides considerable background about their implementation.

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 11:32 AM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2005

Educational Reform with Architecture

A striking new book, The Language of School Design: Design
Patterns for 21st-Century Schools
by Prakash Nair and Randall Fielding has been published by DesignShare. I've been waiting for this book during five decades of transforming "child factories" into places of dignity, community, meaning, and learning. This is a gorgeous book and you should obtain it from DesignShare or your bookseller.

The two web sites associated with the authors, DesignShare and Fielding Nair International are great source of information not only about innovative schools but also about school reform.

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2005

21st Century Schools Project

The 21st Century Schools Project of the Progessive Policy Institute develops public policies to address systemic educational inequities and modernize the industrial-era, factory model of American public education and redefine it through a system premised on universal access, public sector choice and customization, common academic standards, and accountability for results. The project sponsors research and conferences; publishes papers, articles, and a free bimonthly newsletter; and advises national, state, and local policymakers. Recently, the project's work has specifically focused on improving teacher quality, public charter schools and public school choice, special education, and reforming the federal role in education.

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 02:16 PM

March 07, 2005

New Schools to Bypass Traditional High Schools

Jobs for the Future will open schools that accelerate high school and college by compressing grades. Early College High Schools are small schools from which students leave with not only a high school diploma but also an Associate's degree or two years of college credit toward a Bachelor's degree. Several foundations will provide major funding for the creation or redesign of 70 Early College High Schools in the next five years for underserved and low-income young people.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 09:01 PM

Comprehensive School Reform Report

Congress gave $145 million for school reform in 1998 and more in subsequent years. The Longitudinal Assessment of Comprehensive School Reform Program Implementation and Outcomes reports on year one of the grants. Schools which received funding exercised more staff decision making authority, adopted national reform models and followed a written plan more than other schools engaged in reform. Also the funding targeted low income schools, a goal of the legislation. It will be interesting to learn if substantive lasting reform emerges in the coming yearly reports. The report says the schools had a positive start.

Sadly, the past lengthy history of school reform efforts, even when well funded, demonstrates that not much happens and little endures.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 08:09 PM

February 22, 2005

IALA 2005 Annual Conference

The 2005 annual International Association for Learning Alternatives conference (our 35th) will be in Waterloo, Iowa April 6-8 with a fine line up of keynoters and an outstanding mix of small group sessions as described in the conference brochure. You might consider making a presentation. If so, the website has information and a brief form to complete. Ignore the date as they will continue accepting presenter forms until early March. There will be area highlights and school visits. Lodging is $65 per night at the Ramada adjacent to the conference center. Other questions can be addressed to Rachelle Brown at Expo High School, 319-433-1930 or


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 09:55 PM

Youthbuild USA, An Exciting Alternative

Youthbuild USA works with low income youth in 200 communities. Young people growing up in poor neighborhoods desire skills to help them move forward in life. However, they are often discouraged by an education system that fails to recognize their intelligence, fails to help them overcome learning difficulties, and fails to make learning a meaningful and exciting part of their lives.

YouthBuild offers a dynamic educational alternative. Its personalized, self-paced educational program is a powerful blend of experiential and academic learning that frees students' innate intellectual and creative abilities. They soon see math and reading as practical skills needed to accomplish real tasks in their daily lives. Teachers work closely with each student to ensure that no one is overlooked. At the same time, YouthBuild's philosophy of peer-assisted learning builds trust and confidence among trainees. More on the program philosophy.

YouthBuild receives Congressional funding through several agencies and is partially self-supporting by its physical community building activities. This is a powerful and effective alternative!


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 09:32 PM

January 28, 2005

High School Redesign

A new report, State Strategies for Redesigning High Schools and Promoting High School to College Transitions by the Education Commission of the States is the latest in a long saga of reports from various sources calling for significant reform of high schools. This brief (6 pages) describes the problem, suggests changes and outlines the initiatives in several states. It also provides valuable links to other studies and reports. Lynn Olson in a related article, "Calls for Revamping High Schools Intensify" pours on more fuel and provides additional articles on the topic.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 02:52 AM

January 16, 2005


According to an interesting web site, education reform in the United States is a myth. Reform implies that something is being made better, and that clearly is not the case when it comes to education, writes one unhappy blogger. The fun goes on and on, day after day while our children continue to get sub-par schooling. Unless you live in a wealthy part of town that has better schools, or you have found an alternative such as a magnet, your child is getting short-shrifted by the shortsighted. Despite what the educators say, despite what the political leaders say, despite what anyone says, there is no education reform.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 09:57 PM

December 11, 2004

Changing High School

Because high schools have been so resistant to change, educational choices have expanded enormously. Why can't high schools change? A provocative essay, "The Blind Men and the High School" descibes six strategies to change school. Each states a strategy, problem definition and theory of action. Here is one of the stategies as an example:

Strategy: Devise new institutional forms for secondary education: "Early college" high schools, small high schools, schools-within-schools, charter schools, "KIPP" high schools, virtual high schools. Much has been said and done on this front, and the innovations take many shapes, as do the choice schemes whereby young people and their parents can access the version that works best for them.

Problem definition: The circa-1950s, one-size-fits-all, "comprehensive high school" is dysfunctional and off-putting for many, besides being an inefficient, out-moded vehicle for teaching them what they need to learn.

Theory of action: Create new options for delivering and receiving secondary education, using technology, modern organizational theory, out-sourcing and the like, then give young people choices.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 02:29 PM

November 02, 2004

High School: Crisis or Possibility

A new report, Crisis or Possibility Conversations about the American High School (downloadable) by James Harvey and Naomi Housman for the National High School Alliance began with the assumption that something needed to be done. Some 40 organizations participate in the Alliance for this important and well-funded study about the need to "reinvent the American high school." Read the executive summary for the key information. This is the latest item about the need for learning alternatives!


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 08:17 AM

November 01, 2004

How to Change Schools

Ted Kolderie's new book, Creating the Capacity for Change: How and Why Governors and Legislatures Are Opening a New School Sector in Public Education calls into question the assumption that the country can create the schools it wants by changing the schools it has. He says making incremental changes will not produce new schools. It never has in the past and the forces of status quo will prevent it in the future. The answer: start over with brand-new schools. It's the only way to get the schools we want for the 21st-century.

The book is free while supplies last by e-mailing the author at or downloading it online from the Education Evolving website, which has much interesting reading.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 11:21 AM

Comprehensive School Reform

Comprehensive school reform efforts say different forms of schooling are necessary. There have been many such attempts over the past 15 years often with gigantic sums of money attached. A new report, From Whole School to Whole System Reform, describes two major approches: the work of the New American Schools in 4,000 schools and the federal Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration program in 5,000 schools with over $1,000,000,000 of funding. They define comprehensive reform as including: "instruction, assessment, classroom management, professional development, parental involvement, school management, aligning the school’s curriculum, technology, and professional development into a schoolwide reform plan. Wow, that should really change the operation of the nation's schools! Unfortunately, as with many other such efforts, after the dust clears, precious little has changed. Still, the report describes these considerable efforts and the small achievement gains made in some schools.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 06:47 AM

September 27, 2004

Advanced High School

The Providence, RI Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, or MET school for short, was created as a high school taking advantage of best practices in school reform and therefore departs significantly from the norm. A strong advisor program, small school size, and tremendous amount of community based learning are among its features. Dennis Litkey, one of the founders, writes of their hughly successful venture, one that has attracted considerable foundation support for replication. The parent organization, The Big Picture Company provides considerable detail about its programs. A new book, The Big Picture: Education is Everyone's Business provides further detail into the philosophy and operation of this advanced school.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 01:59 PM

Evidence for School Reform

Researchers have found an astounding 40 percent to 60 percent of all students — urban, suburban and rural — are "chronically disengaged" from school. And these numbers don't include kids who actually drop out of school. This is from a quote from a newspaper account of a national conference of experts who met at the Wingspread Conference Center and hammered out a position statement outlining what schools need to do about this problem. The statement includes several research papers. These findings are consistent with other reports particularly at the secondary level.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 01:31 PM

August 26, 2004

Contracted Alternative Programs

Another type of alternative school is those which contract with a school district to serve a particular population of students. For example, the Metropolitan Federation of Alternative Schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, consists of 22 schools run by community non-profits. Each contracts to serve particular populations of "at-risk" students. The students remain on the district rolls but by statute the district gives 95% of the state aid the student generates to the contracted program. Each of the schools controls its programs, staffing and budgets. It's a win-win. The programs obtain revenue from the district to provide programs that better meet the needs of elementary and secondary students. This arrangement has been in place for several decades although in the early years, the programs received much less revenues from districts. The schools have formed the Federation as a mutual benefit organization.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 05:47 PM

August 13, 2004

Tough Love for School Reform

Frederick M. Hess says that school reformers undermine their own best efforts while distracting public attention and energy from the larger, structural problems. The real crisis, he writes, is that so few of our schools are excellent, so many are mediocre, and yet we, the adults responsible, are content to tinker and theorize. Demands for radical change are often met by protestations of good intentions, pleas for patience, and an endless stream of ineffectual reforms. Read his thoughtful "common sense agenda" for tough-minded accountability.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 03:24 PM

August 02, 2004

Schools of the Future

Ian Jukes and Ted McCain describe their vision of tomorrow's schools in an article "New Schools for a New Age." They write of the speed of change impacting the world and that will hit education where we least expect it. They describe the difference in expectations of workers and citizens in the future world of high speed and advanced technology. A thougthful and provocative article. The InfoSavvy site contains a list of exciting articles and handouts used for presentations.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 10:24 AM

May 31, 2004

Design for New Schools: CLC

The Community Learning Centers model was developed to "redesign American education." A huge database of information is available about its features and how to implement them. It includes: personal learning plans, professional learning plans, differentiated staffing, performance pay, advisor program, technology use, thematic instruction, service learning, school board operations (charter), brain compatible learning, and other topics with detailed descriptions.

This is highly useful for people planning new schools who need to think differently about education. The CLC model was developed by Designs for Learning, a St. Paul, MN consulting firm.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 04:52 PM

May 26, 2004

New Schools, The Only Route to Reform?

A new report by Curtis Johnson and Neal Peirce, System Change Goes to School:
New Opportunities for Civic Leadership to Transform K-12 Education in
American Cities
argues that in spite of major efforts and millions of dollars for reform, traditional schools are unchanged. This is because the system and the general public have built-in factors that successfully resist and probably will always prevent change in traditional schools. Instead, America needs an "open sector" in education where new schools are permitted and encouraged. Essentially, only they can create substantially different schools. This is a powerful and important report that deserves a careful reading.
Johnson and Peirce


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 03:09 PM

May 10, 2004

Create New Schools

Community Based Organizations (CBOs)have entered the education scene by sponsoring new charter schools. The YMCA of America, YouthBuild and the National Council of LaRaza are examples. YouthBuild received a $5.4 million Gates Foundation grant to establish 10 new schools to add to the network of 23 Youthbuild schools. How National Organizations and Their Affiliates Can Support the New Schools Strategy describes the backgound of this movement and provides details.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 12:07 PM

April 25, 2004

Exciting Designs for New Schools

In a remote blue collar region of Australia, Devenport, Tasmania, a new school, Reece Community High School received the prestigious MacConnell award for the best planned, designed and technologically advanced school in the world. Education Week has an excellent story (free registration) as has Design Share, The International Forum for Innovative Schools.

A second set of examples of advanced schools is Schools as Centers of Community: A Citizens' Guide for Planning and Design, a gorgeously illustrated free book you can download from the web by the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities.

A third source of good ideas is Smaller, Safer, Saner Successful Schools from the Center for School Change and can be downloaded free. This well-illustrated booklet provides a rationale for smaller schools and for sharing space with community resources.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 09:59 PM

April 04, 2004

8 Year Study: Now Available!

One of the most famous and sound studies in American Education is the 8 Year Study which led to the oft-repeated comment that the further you departed from conventional high school education the better the results. Five volumes described the study but they are almost impossible to find. Fortunately, the summary in the entire volume I, The Story of the Eight Year Study is now is available online due to the good work by the Maine Association for Middle Level Learning with the cooperation of the University of Maine.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 10:03 PM

March 03, 2004

Breaking Ranks II Calls for Major Reforms

Breaking Ranks II: Strategies for Leading High School Reform published by the National Association of Secondary School Principals reaffirms and strengthens recommendations in the earlier 1996 addition. A free copy of the report is being sent to every high school principal in America with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The recommendations are bold and systemic but in my view are as unlikely to come to fruition as they were when published earlier. That unhappy outcome simply shows again the difficulty of making major reforms in well-established institutions.

Hence, the need for alternatives and the power of starting schools from scratch.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 11:41 AM

December 19, 2003

High Schools: Need for Alternatives

Indicators of serious problems in high schools continue to pop up like secrets that cannot be suppressed. Now the National Research Council of the National Academies (probably the nation's most prestigious and unbiased organization) has published, Engaging Schools: Fostering High School Students' Motivation to Learn, a report showing a grim picture of high schools unlikely to surprise teachers in even the best of schools that high school students lack any sense of purpose or real connection with what they are doing in the classroom. You can order the book or read it on line.
This is mindful of a book, Another Planet by Elinor Burkett descibing an existing successful suburban high school in which the author spent a year documenting that for students, high school is another planet.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 08:28 PM

November 28, 2003

Schools within Schools

A long standing practice to provide choices is the practice of creating schools within an existing school. For example, a large high school might have several subunits that serve as alternatives for students and staff. The Gates Foundation funds a large number of projects to carve large schools into smaller units, for example $55 million for Texas schools. A recent study by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education examines this movement in Cincinnati and Philadelphia for its effect on school culture, instruction and student performance.

For the most authoritative coverage of schools within schools, see Educational Alternatives for Everyone by Don Glines, specifically chapter 18. Don has been the voice for how schools can change for 40 years. Check him out!


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 10:41 AM

November 02, 2003

School Choice Can Reform Education

A recent study, School Choice as Education Reform: What Do We Know? suggests that offering choices of schools may improve learning. "There are two arguments about why greater school choice would result in better educational outcomes: (1) It could allow schools to better tailor their programs to attract students with particular interests or learning styles, thus providing a better match for students' unique educational needs; and (2) it would break the public school educational monopoly and force schools to compete for students in an educational marketplace in which "good" schools would prosper and "bad" schools would improve or be forced to shut down."


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 10:11 PM

September 13, 2003

Lifelong Learning

There has been a growing movement to reinvent how people learn and how young people are introduced into society. Homeschooling, charter schools, cyberschools, unschooling, life-long learning, Waldorf schools, and Sudbury schools are just a few of the elements of this movement. Life-long learning has been promoted by management guru Peter Drucker in "Post Capitalist Society" on one end of the spectrum and, on the other end, by Elise Boulding in "Building Global Civic Culture," and by many scholars in between. The bottom line in this movement is to provide the freedom, opportunity and resources for self-learners of all ages, with their families and in community, to choose to learn what they want, when they want and how they want. In spite of the rapid growth of this movement, it has drawn little positive attention from governments. Learn more about the strategies of the self-learning movement.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 11:13 AM

September 04, 2003

Signs That Students Need a Change

Jerry Mintz of The Alternative Education Resource Organization and publisher of Education Revolution magazine has a checklist of 10 Signs You Need a Different Kind of Education for Your Child to stimulate discussion among parents to consider alternatives. It's a thought-provoking list from a pioneer in the alternative schools movement.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 04:38 PM

June 05, 2003

Exciting Schools

The George Lucas Educational Foundation has for the past 10 years published a newsletter describing a revolution in learning. I highly recommend their online videos of amazing schools K-12 where students do active learning. These are compelling stories and very helpful for staff development. Teachers get excited when they can see and feel the difference active learning produces in student engagement. In addition to the videos, they have many other resources that can be accessed via their site. After you get to their site, click on the video gallery.


Posted by Wayne Jennings at 09:59 AM

March 03, 2003

Getting closer

We're in the middle of putting up a new website to replace the old one. Stay tuned for many changes in the next few days. In the meantime, feel free to Contact Us.

Posted by Wayne Jennings at 01:14 PM