As outlined, I contend that the current American education system is embarrassingly unaligned with the anticipated needs of its future citizens. This is not the fault of teachers, unions, administrators, community leaders, parents nor, least of all, young people. This is the fault of time and the system’s inability (and/or lack of significant motivation) to make decisions based on foresight, innovation and progress instead of tradition. It’s time to stop pointing fingers at one another and begin to work together to prepare young people for the Information Age in a realistic, relevant, authentic way.

Intrinsic motivation has infinite advantages over extrinsic motivation. If an individual desires to achieve a goal, that individual will use all of his or her available resources in a pursuit to realize that goal. If, however, an individual is not interested, invested and/or personally accountable for achieving a goal, he or she will only move forward under the immediate supervision and intimidation/encouragement of someone who is. The latter model is an inefficient use of resources, shortsighted and unauthentic. The moment the supervisor is removed from the equation, the motivation dissipates.

I believe, and am willing to prove, that a group of young people can and will achieve great things when intrinsically motivated and held accountable for one another’s success and happiness. How?

The Lower Merion School District’s student to professional staff member ratio is roughly 11:1 Another instructor and I will assume the responsibility of 22 8th grade students. In turn, the students will assume the responsibility and accountability of their own, and the group’s, success by owning the authentic consequences of their choices and actions (or inaction). Beginning on the first day of school, they will have access to the “core” curriculum textbooks and accompanying workbooks, handouts, packets etc., as well as laptop computers with internet access. They will chose how they would like to achieve the following goal: 100% of the students will score a 90% or above on all curriculum-aligned, text book supplied unit assessments. They must, as a group, further exhibit a practical understanding of the curricular information in a way they deem most appropriate. That exhibition will be evaluated by the program instructors, in tandem with ANY stakeholders who are interested in joining the evaluation panel. I contend that they will be successful at achieving this goal in a fraction of their school year.

Once all of the students prove mastery of content in these two ways, we begin the second phase of their 8th grade learning; existential, group-selected learning experiences beyond the confines of the classroom and school campus. This could include, but is not limited to,  exploratory trips to cultural, industrial, educational, professional and/or natural locations, solving real-world problems and/or passionately pursuing a group-determined goal. The possibilities are literally infinite.

This model will work for the same reasons that a runner will inevitably beat someone being dragged, carried or pushed by another in a race. Students will be tremendously motivated to master content, spurred by their accountability to teammates and intrinsic desire to move on to phase two’s unique experiences.

The budget of this pilot program will be consistent with other traditional models of instruction. It will include the use of a single room (or nontraditional space) on campus, laptops and curricular materials for the first phase. It will require access to a small bus and driver for the second phase. The students and instructors will supply the rest. If additional funding is required to achieve a goal, the group will brainstorm strategies to procure the necessary funds (and any other resources) and then attempt to do so. If they’re successful, we’ll move forward. If they can not collect the necessary resources to achieve a goal, the group will be forced to rethink or adjust the goal and/or definition of success. So goes life.

I believe I’m well-suited to pilot a model such as this because I am certified in art, secondary English and secondary social studies. Further, I have diverse interests and accomplishments in a variety of fields including the fine arts, entrepreneurship, writing, sales, performance, technology and philosophy. I am requesting a female counterpart (for gender equity) who exhibits flexibility, optimism, compassion  and multicultural awareness and holds certifications in science, math and technology.

Students will participate in the same standardized assessments as their grademates. Throughout the school year, formative and summative assessments will be used to measure student retention of core curriculum. If the program facilitators observe a deficit, group resources will be redirected towards addressing that deficit. Parents, administrators and other community stakeholders are encouraged to join us to observe any and all activities. Detailed accounts of our experiences will also be available  to read about and/or view online.

Any 8th grade student will be eligible for participation. Applicants must submit a one paragraph essay stating why they would be an asset to the program and their teammates based on flexibility and accountability. Applicants will be narrowed, interviewed and selected by the program facilitators. The selection will be based on the professionals’ opinions of potential benefit to the student participants, program and school community. Professional decisions will reflect the diverse population of the district, be final and defensible.

FAQ (Answered from Within the Proposed System)

Q: In phase one, what happens if one or two kids can’t pass the test(s)?
A: We, as a group, will use our resources to solve that problem. Classmates and instructors will focus our energies into helping the struggling individual(s) to isolate and overcome their obstacle(s). This is not a zero sum model, we thrive as a pack or not at all. ALL student will be asked, “what have you done and what are you willing to do to help your teammate(s) address the  issue?”

Q: How will students be held accountable in phase two experiences?
A: Rather than restrict and reject modern day technology, we intend to embrace it. Students will be encouraged to use their own smart devices and other technology to chronicle and share their progress and experiences. At the conclusion of every day, students will post a reflection of the day’s events and what it meant to them and their learning. They are “responsible for information” in the traditional sense, they are responsible for what the information or experience means to them.

Q: What if students use technology to goof off and/or cyber bully?
A: Eliminating or restricting the means of making a bad decision does not eliminate the motivation to make a bad decision and, in fact, only fosters ignorant decision making. We will help students understand the consequences of their decisions and trust them to make ones that are best for themselves and others. A short discussion on the topics of delayed gratification and empathy are infinitely more effective than bans on technology.

Q: What about grades?
A: Grades are abstract, extrinsic motivators. They are a dangling carrot, and rotten one at that. Success isn’t a letter on a piece of paper, success is deciding on symbiotic, mutually beneficial solutions to problems and achieving authentic goals. A successful life inarguably involves happiness, productivity, purpose and meaning. Paper is fleeting.

Q: This sounds like a dream come true, what are the drawbacks?
A: They won’t look forward to weekends as much.

Encourage district decision makers to pilot the program I’ve outlined. We are 100% confident in the power of young people to immediately begin to achieve their goals and are willing to set the table for, and act as catalysts in, their ultimate success. Advocate.

22 Responses to “You Say You Want an Edvolution?”
  1. Sarah says:

    *Stands and applauds*

  2. Jennifer Davis says:

    I want to be in that class!

  3. Regina says:

    Can my kid be in this class in the 8th grade? LOVE this idea.

  4. Scott says:

    The identification of the problems in the first essay was well-stated. The proposal in the second essay was both well-stated and intriguing.
    However, the value and efficacy of group work at the elementary, middle, high school and even college level is often overestimated. There are ALWAYS students who have a lesser (or non-existent) sense of accountabililty to their group. While group work is sometimes necessary in life after school, in the employment, business or professional context there are usually very tangible benefits and/or consequences for those who do (or do not) meet their obligations. The premise that students wil be “tremendously motivated” is questionable, and raises the question of what to do with those students who are not.

  5. Todd Marrone says:

    Thanks for your feedback, Scott. You may very well be correct. All I’m asking for is the opportunity to allow young people to prove that they can. I believe in them.

  6. Jon K. says:

    Why not randomly chose the 20 students to take part of a new classroom experience? Is there something a student can say to convince you he/she is worthy of learning? Is there something a student can say or do to prove he/she is not deserving of a quality education. How about just taking the orchestra kids? If this was covered, I may of misread it, there were a lot of words over my head.
    I do not think having a female co-teacher is important. If this program is going to be revolutionary then why feel the need to fill quotas. Why not have the two most qualified people administer the program?
    I do not think it fair to imply that there is no one learning, therefore, no one teaching in our current education system. Kids can learn and thrive in our current system. Not all get stressed from the testing, in fact some find it a means to demonstrate their knowledge and achievements. Many of these kids will grow to be outstanding adults who are generous, gracious and improving the quality of life for others, just like many of our L.M. families.
    I do agree the system is failing many of our youths. No child left behind has really fouled up our system. I do though agree that the funding should go to the schools that need the money, not schools like ours that have everything.
    Did the educational system fail you?
    Advice: If I worked at McDonalds, I wouldn’t be running around bad mouthing the Big Macs.
    I love you, I support you and I find that engaging you in conversation is thought provoking.
    Please excuse any typos, I wrote this thing myself.

  7. Todd Marrone says:

    1) For the same reason we don’t randomly chose anything that is important. Otherwise, your son’s name would be Todd.
    2) I’m looking for accountability and creativity. I’d also like to chose a diverse group of students that represents our student population.
    3) I think it would be appropriate to have a female counterpart in case bathroom issues come up.
    4) I agree that there is not one type of learning. If the current model fits a student best, they should not apply for the pilot program. If the entire system shifted in this direction, students would still be able to select to sit in a desk and fill out a packet in an existential environment.
    5) The educational system bored me into a state of apathy and indifference. How about you?
    6) You’d bad mouth the big macs if they were 60 years past their expiration date… in fact, you’d be amazed that the other employees continued to serve them without saying anything.

  8. Jon K. says:

    Bathroom issues shouldn’t determine your educator. Heck, some of our kids aren’t even sure about their gender. If you have a Christian teacher then should your co-worker be Muslim. Should a tall teacher be paired with a shorter one? Perhaps a left brain teacher could use some right brain balance.
    I would think plenty of our students would opt for an alternative program. If you can teach twice as fast, the students learn twice as fast, then I propose your model and a shorter work year.
    If there were an app that you could use from your phone, an app that would scan text, an app that would then read you the info, would I then still need to teach my kids to read. We don’t chisel into stone any longer.
    I rebelled against the machine, I was disenchanted as a kid. I did though have a teacher who I believe made a difference in my world. He taught me through his treatment of me that it was ok to enjoy class and respect someone old, short and balding.
    Education has certainly changed during our careers as both you and I have changed. Use some of the resources the broken system provides you and change a student for the better. You are in the perfect discipline to help a student in-spite of a failed system. Continue to collect data, you won’t like it, but you’ll need something concrete to change minds. Compare attitudes and aptitudes, twist and tweak your teaching style as you become more aware of our students needs. I hope one day to share the Marrone model of thinking to my classes. Certainly all avenues would lead back to your website.

  9. Jon K. says:

    ps, I do not know how that title got on my replies.

  10. Todd Marrone says:

    “It’s a mistake to assume that someone needs to be taught in order to learn.”
    – Dot Enorram

  11. Captian Larry says:

    My biggest problem with the current system is that as educators, we are not given the time to produce creative and meaningful lessons. We spend our planning periods in IEP meetings, answering parent e-mails, filling out paper work, signing up for PRP’s and collecting meaningless data. Teachers know how to teach. We don’t need data to tell us how to reach a student. Education is an art, not a science. As for the standardized tests, it is a result of big government. It is the government deeming whether a student is worthy to move on or graduate, instead of the teachers and building administrators. I beg to differ that our educational system is 50-60 years out of date. If you ask me, we need to get back to what it was 50-60 years ago. It was NEVER broken and the lawyers, politicians, parents and higher administrators (some of whom have a total of 5 years of classroom experience) tried to fix it. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!!!! Look at the world that the people who were educated in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s have created for us. The advancements in technology, medicine and all other areas of life are a result of that system. I shutter to think what the world is going to look like in 30 years when the results of the current system are running the world. There is so much micro-management of our teachers today. My grade book is on-line for all to see. I know of teachers that have been called into the office because their grade books were examined by an administrator There was a time that a teachers grade book and the teachers observations and their word was all the data needed to figure out if a child was fit to move on or graduate. Basically to go back to a previous point, it was the schools (teachers and principals and the local school board) that determined what type of school they would run, not the government. Give the schools back to the people that know what they are doing–TEACHERS!!! Anyone else having a say in our schools is just outside noise that distracts from the goal. Let the teachers teach and the system would improve so much.

  12. Amanda says:

    So you’re saying you pick a group of kids, by application (motivated kids by nature) and then selection whom you feel will succeed and then you use this group to show that this process is a success? Yay. But what has this done? What about the TONS of kids for whom this won’t work? Your last post seemed to be a summary of thoughts that I read tons and tons of times throughout my education as an educator…I can’t think of one educator I know who disagrees with any of that. But I’m confused about the proposal as a “what to do about it”…or maybe I’m missing something? Seems you’re just finding a way to work within the same old system in a shorter time frame so there’s more time for kids to explore on their own the things that interest them. But the basis is that everything pretty much remains the same.

  13. Todd Marrone says:

    Hi Amanda, good questions. I believe that a successful pilot program requires a certain level of conceptual buy-in. If, and when, it became a larger (or longer standing) entity it would not require the same level of individual buy-in because there would be a shift in paradigm thinking. As far as it not working for tons and tons of kids, what type do you mean? Describe a prototype and I’ll try my best to select someone who best represents your description. We’ll see if he or she is successful.

    I’m glad that lots of educators agree with me. What have they done about it? If they’re successfully established pilot programs, I’m definitely interested in the data so it can inform my decision making.

    As for compacting the same system, you’re correct. I don’t have the power, nor position, to single handedly create legislation that eliminates test requirements in my state. I can, however, demonstrate that the time and energy spent after fulfilling test requirements is far more educationally meaningful than time and energy spent preparing for them. Then that may beg the question, “why are we doing this in the first place?”

    Thanks for your comments!

  14. Meg says:

    Have you ever discussed this pilot program with the school district?
    And, do you think it is a good idea to start the program with kids who are just about to graduate and go to high school?

  15. Karin says:

    I’m in- and we’re in your school. As the parent of a very bright and interested alternative learner, I have battled these same issues through almost six years in this school district. I believe not only that there is room in this school district for alternative programming such as your suggestion here, but that it is a necessity for the children whose current and future academic, emotional, and “holistic” (grrrr…) needs do not get met by the one-size-fits-all, jam-a-square-peg-into-a-round-hole typical programming. Too many kids aren’t learning the *real* skills that are necessary for life after high school- and with the technology that we have now is it really necessary to devote so many hours to, say, spelling???

    Calculators are now widely used in math after a certain age when kids have already proven that they know how to do certain computations and they are a great tool for furthering instruction- why not laptops for the same reason, allowing more time for encouraging critical thinking, facilitating curiosity, and other worthwhile endeavors that can not be transferred to technology? By the way, my daughter has been using technology full time in this school district since fourth grade (THAT was challenging to say the least- thinking out of the box was NOT welcomed) and she has never ever ever used her assigned laptop inappropriately. She is extremely responsible w/ it, and careful always, and respectful of the trust shown to her with this amazing tool- and it IS a tool!

    Tell me the name of this pilot program and I will be happy to mention it to the powers that be 😉

  16. Todd Marrone says:

    Hi Meg, I’ve been discussing with anyone who’ll listen (and/or read). It’s difficult to initiate change but all the stakeholders are after equally motivated to do what’s best for young people so I’m confident we can make it work. I think the word “graduate” is slightly overused… they graduate about four times in their life before even entering college. I think 8th grade is optimal because it’s the last (oldest) grade that doesn’t have any lasting impact on cumulative GPA and, consequently, high school transcripts. Thanks for your interest!

    Karin, right on. I understand your perspective and appreciate your support. I’d never name it without input from, and a consensus by, the student participants, that’s what it’s all about! Until then, maybe Project Rerenaissance… since it’s a re-rebirth of “gradual but widespread educational reform” (thanks Wikipedia).

  17. Amanda says:

    Well, let’s see…I taught a class of 30 fifth graders and almost half could not read more than the alphabet. Some came in most days and found it almost impossible to focus because they were starving. Others regularly slept during class because they didn’t have a home and therefore rarely slept at night. How would your proposal work for those kids? I have more examples, but I think you get the idea. Would it be a great experience for a self selected group of students in a district like LM? Maybe. It’s like home schooling–can you cover an entire year of curriculum in about three months thus leaving lots of time for other things when you’re only teaching three kids? Sure. But does that mean it “works” for everyone or is a better system than the current? At the end of the day you’re still feeding into the same system. You’re just trying to get through it faster to leave more time for other things. And how would you show that these “other endeavors” are actually educationally meaningful? I’m not even really sure what that means, as that entire part of the proposal was left very vague. How would you prove that it’s more educationally meaningful than preparing for tests that you already say are useless? Would you use assessments to determine what they learned? Ask them to show mastery of some skills? Would they determine the skills or ideas that they should learn to show that it’s educationally meaningful? Would you? Or would it just, by default, obviously be more educationally meaningful because it would not be standards or assessment driven?

    Don’t get me wrong. I hear where you’re coming from. I guess I’m not getting the connection between this post and the one prior. And, yes, I think many educators have tried and are working on many new models of educating–many are working well, both in and out of this country (especially OUT of this country). I personally have seen educators in both private and public schools facilitating learning in very educationally meaningful ways, no matter what the topic of learning is. No, that’s not data, but it’s too late for me to dig that up at the moment…

  18. Todd Marrone says:

    Hi Amanda, I understand your plight and feel your pain. In answer to your questions; well, no, significantly better for everyone, no, yes, reflection, products, conversations, solved problems, proposals and presentations, yes, no, no, no, no, correct.

    I think that about covers it, let me know if you have any more.

  19. mara @BHF says:

    Intrigued. I hope you get the chance. I personally loathed any “group work” in middle/high school, because the less motivated kids did nothing, and the kids who cared did everything. I saw it as quicker and easier to do the entire project myself, and often did.
    Team work in the corporate world is everything though. Different than high school, we all benefited from team success and had more buy in to the shared goal from all team members.
    I think your suggestion, gives the class some different incentives to work together. If I was local I’d sign up to be your math and science female.

  20. Kareem Majid says:

    Where can i sign up. I want to be in this program because I feel that I would fit into this program because for part 2, I can express myself in a not by-the-book fashion, and I have a way to finance it.

  21. Ava B. says:

    The program stated above is very interesting. I love it. It’s a much better approach to education, and it allows one to be much more creative. I’m just scared that it wouldn’t work as planned. I mean in theory, it sounds perfect, but when it’s carried out I foresee some errors. How much would we go on these field trips? I fear that during the school year there will be an significant amount of “goofing off”. If it does make it through the school board, I would be very interested in joining.

  22. Todd Marrone says:

    Hey Ava, I believe that people goof off when they’re disengaged. I dare say that students in a program that I’ve outlined would not be disengaged. If they are, it’s due to an error on their part since they’re choosing the experience(s).

    Young people can achieve great things when intrinsically motivated and mutually accountable. I’m willing to prove it.