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School Disruption on the Small Scale – Can micro-schools break out of an elite niche?

Read our article published in Education Next:

The NuVu Innovation School sits a few blocks west of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on the second floor of a steel-and-glass building. Inside an airy open space, small groups of middle- and high-school students spend their days much like the engineers up the street, creating and testing design solutions to everyday problems. Instead of switching between subject-driven classes that teach a common curriculum, they follow a fluid schedule in two-week blocks, and apply math, reading, problem-solving, and other skills to the project at hand. With the help of visiting experts from MIT, they bring their ideas to life on the milling machines and 3-D printers that fill the materials lab.

It may not seem like “school” in the classic sense—but then, that is the point. NuVu is an off-the-grid, independent “micro-school,” whose 60 students are stretching the boundaries of what constitutes education in America. Such boutique programs offer highly personalized environments on a tiny scale, in a tech-enabled reinvention of the one-room schoolhouse that eschews lockstep schedules and standard curricula for student-led learning. They represent a handful of private schools in the country today, but their rapid growth and embrace of sought-after “deeper learning” goals raise important questions about how to scale and democratize the approach.

“There’s a lot about the institutional quality of schools that feels misaligned with our basic humanity,” said Matt Kramer, CEO of the Wildflower Foundation, which supports a network of micro-schools. “Micro-schools provide a school on a more human level. It’s not just the smallness but also the student-centeredness. Both are important, but they’re separate ideas.”

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