Imagine a school with no bells or classes, no principal or school board. It's not an idea, it's a large-scale experiment in the upper Midwest.
A column by my friend Joe Nathan reminded me of the pioneering work of the Minnesota-based Edvisions network. Joe reviews a report by Charles Kerchner, a Claremont (California) University professor, "Can Teachers Run their Own Schools?"
The teacher-run school idea was born in Henderson, Minnesota in 1994, with the creation of the Minnesota New Country School (MNCS). Doug and Dee Thomas, and a number of other public school veterans/visionaries created MNCS., with assistance from, Ted Kolderie, a creative Minnesota policy thinker. MNCS, and a larger cooperative called Edvisions remain in Henderson, providing assistance and inspiration to educators and families throughout the United States (as well as visitors from a number of other countries.) There are 12 "Edvisions" schools in Minnesota and 35 others around the country.
"Can teachers run their own schools?" is an interesting question, but it's actually just one of eight innovations explored in Kerchner's paper and exhibited by the Edvisions network:
- Governance: a producers cooperative is not unusual in the upper Midwest, but uncommon in education. Joe points out that doctors, lawyers, journalists and other professionals have options to form professional partnerships. Kerchner notes: "The use of cooperatives is much more widespread than commonly realized, involving as many as 100 million Americans."
Edvisions schools operate under a charter or contract that provides academic and financial autonomy.
Kerchner is clear that "The range of test score results among the teacher-run schools is very large, and so is the student population served... The schools appear to have better than average college test results and college-going rates."
As the digital learning tools improve, networks like Edvisions will be able to add engaging and targeted skill-building playlists to their project-based approach.
America needs more educational experiments like Edvisions -- experiments in governance, structure, and learning.