July 17, 2023
As a young, new teacher I was naïve. I thought school reform was simple: Understand how learning happens, and design schools based on that understanding. It’s not rocket science. And yet . . .
For decades as researchers have provided educators with increasing insights into how people learn, thousands of teachers have worked to integrate these new understandings into their classrooms. Still, the same old problems persist: too many disengaged students graduating with poor skills and knowledge, a tenacious achievement gap, growing teen depression and suicide, and teachers burning out. Although the causes are many, one of the most significant is that changing what goes on in the classroom isn’t enough. It’s way past time to stop expecting teachers to carry the burden of inventing new practices for a system that resists fundamental change and that, therefore, will undermine their efforts. Classrooms themselves are one antiquated part of a larger structure—a factory model based on discredited assumptions about learning and the brain. New insights require new structures. A group of us learned this lesson several years ago when we redesigned our ninth-grade curriculum.
We had two overriding goals. The first was to emphasize interdisciplinary skills development…