An Ambitious Plan to Make the Nation Proud of its Public Schools

EdLeaders, Leadership, Learning, Learning Design, Smart Schools

What would it look like to have a nation proud of its public schools? “We see a future, when parents in all communities can feel newfound confidence and excitement for the learning journeys their students face. A far cry from the disengaged, impersonal and outdated “stand and deliver” education that passes for school today. This aim—a nation proud of its public schools—is based on tangible success in redesigning 200 schools within districts, ” says Lydia Dobyns, New Tech Network (NTN) President and CEO.

We know that project-based learning can be a great way to engage students to encourage collaboration and creativity, and to promote authentic work and assessment–however, there are also a set of challenges to making sure project-based learning is done well. New Tech Network is a leader in a new generation of schools that are blending the best of personalized learning and project-based learning to address these challenges.

Napa New Technology High School was created when local businesspeople came together in 1996 to develop a school in which students would learn the skills necessary to succeed in the new economy.

For founding teachers like Paul Curtis (who is now Director of Curriculum for the Network), three things were different than teaching in other parts of the Napa Valley USD schools:

  • New Tech was small (about 100 students per grade);
  • The integrated curriculum was project-based; and
  • There was a computer for every student.

After strong results from the first few graduating classes, a nonprofit organization was formed in 2001 to promote replication. With a $6 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, NTN set out to open 14 schools over three years. One of the first replication schools was Sacramento New Tech where NTN Chief Operating Officer Tim Presiado was a founding teacher. Fast forward to 2016 and NTN supports nearly 200 schools, 90% of them in school districts.

“I had the privilege of being part of the opening of the third school in the Network. As I step back now and look at what it means to have nearly 200 schools in our Network and of the value of being able to learn with and from teachers and leaders across the Network, I realize that I’ve been part of a movement. What started as replication has become so much more, and I see clearly now that the real value of our partnership with schools and districts is around that network connection and the resources and learning we’ve co-developed together,” says Presiado.

As the movement grows, NTN has expanded their once primarily high school model to elementary and middle schools (elementary and middle schools, like Katherine Smith and Bulldog Tech, now make up 20% of schools within the network), and they continue to grow with nearly 25 new schools each year. But the Network sees an opportunity to catalyze the spread of deeper learning to more students by offering multiple innovation paths to districts. NTN has their sights set on accelerated growth and impact through a variety of on-ramps.

“We know that accelerated growth requires a broad range of supports for districts to facilitate systemic change and calls for highly adaptive approaches tied to school data that assesses student growth,” notes Dobyns. The NTN Student Outcomes Report 2015 offers evidence that the network leads to success for diverse students in rural, urban and suburban schools.

We were recently lucky enough to chat with the New Tech Team about what New Tech High got right almost 20 years ago and why the network has been so successful while other replication and expansion efforts have stalled.  Here is what they had to say:

 

There are nine notable elements of the network:

  1. Project-based pedagogy: Teachers design curriculum tied to standards that has students doing real work and presenting public products.
  2. Integrated curriculum: Big blocks of time and team teaching create conditions for teacher collaboration and challenging integrated student assignments.
  3. With a focus on deeper learning and school-wide learning outcomes, New Tech schools promote agency—students receive feedback (as well as communication and content knowledge) on every project (see this year’s Best in Network winner, i3 New Tech Academy).
  4. With diversity of school designs, the Network illustrates the power of rigor, relevance and relationship in neighborhood and schools of choice.
  5. NTN was the first platform-centric school network—an idea that most districts and networks now embrace.
  6. NTN partners with school districts in multiple ways to support school innovation and develop change management expertise.
  7. What started as a vision for a new kind of high school is now a compelling K-12 model (see feature on Katherine Smith School).
  8. Serious investments in innovation and continuous improvement position the Network to make significant contributions to the field.
  9. The Network shares a compelling vision of “A nation proud of its public schools.”

NTN is dedicated to scaled impact through innovative approaches, such as NT Teams–a new initiative launching later this year to replicate the New Tech school model across a grade level team. NT teams are an effort to create a rapid, effective and affordable strategy that allows a school leader and group of early adopter teachers to implement integrated, personalized and assessment-rich projects.

The goal is to enable the district and school teams to experience rapid transformation, measure deeper learning outcomes and scale project-based learning across multiple courses. NT Teams will serve as a starting point for transformation and an accelerant for further school-wide transformation efforts.

For all of these reasons and more, New Tech Network continues to attract the interest of school district leaders and national and local philanthropy.

For more, see:


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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is author of Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners and Bloomboard. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.

1 Comments

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