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Hot Tips To Reinvent Education


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, we will hear the story of one young woman who literally put her life on the line to go to school. Shabana Basij-Rasikh will join us to talk about growing up under Taliban rule in Afghanistan and the work she's doing now to make sure other young Afghan women can get an education. That's in just a few minutes. But first, we are continuing our conversation with our education innovators.

Still with us are Father Joe Parkes. He's president of Cristo Rey New York High School - that's a Catholic high school. It's in East Harlem, New York, which features a nontraditional schedule - four days in school, one day working. Larry Scripp is the founding director of the Center for Music in Education. That's a research and development organization that helps schools develop arts education programs. And Jessie Woolley-Wilson is CEO of DreamBox Learning.

That company develops computer-based learning programs that adapt to individual students. Before we took our short break, we were talking about where, if any, of the pushback comes from. So Father Joe, I want to know, who doesn't like your big idea?

JOE PARKES: Well, we had pushback from a couple of foundations who told us early on, you're bringing in low-income kids, giving them a college-prep education, you should be keeping them in school five and a half days a week, not letting them out work one day a week. I think we have proven with our rigorous curriculum that was developed over the years by our network - thanks to the Gates Foundation and Bridgemspan Consulting - that we're getting our kids ready to succeed in college, and to get into great colleges and universities.

So in the six graduating classes we've had, we've graduated 400 kids. They've already graduated from places such as Swarthmore, Northwestern, Santa Clara, Fordham. We have kids at Georgetown, at Amherst, at Williams, at Smith, at Skidmore - great colleges and universities all over the country. So I think we've proven that the Corporate Work Study Program gives our youngsters a tremendous sense of motivation and dedication to succeed in school.

And a lot of the research shows that for low - children from low-income families, the habits they pick up in high school are just as important as the knowledge they pick up in terms of whether or not they'll succeed in college. Ninety percent of our kids attend college. We just graduated 90 youngsters. Seventy-seven percent will be going to private four-year colleges, 21 percent to public four-year colleges, 2 percent to public junior colleges. That's 100 percent.

So we've proven that the Corporate Work Study Program not only does not detract from their education, it actually improves their education and helps them grow as human beings, and gives them a great sense of hope and they see their futures in it. And that makes education make sense.

MARTIN: Jessie Woolley-Wilson, we're getting a lot of tweets from people, who are really talking among themselves in some ways, about the whole question of the digital divide. And they're asking whether this is another thing - is this kind of adaptive learning something that would bridge the digital divide, or does it, in some ways, entrench it yet again, because the kids who are most likely to have access to this kind of experience are already the kids who are most advantaged? What are you finding, and what do you say about that?

JESSIE WOOLLEY WILSON: So we believe that we are helping to close that digital divide. And we're doing that by changing expectations of learners. So we have data that shows that kids in very low-income backgrounds, many of whom don't speak English as a first language, when they're exposed to the supportive environment, the DreamBox Learning environment, they outperform their counterparts dramatically.

MARTIN: Can I just jump in for one second? For example, one of the questions we received from a teacher in New Orleans, Valerie Burton (ph), she says that, you know, a lot of people are very suspicious about technology in the classroom. She says, for example, the best way for kids in her school to use technology in the classroom would be to use their phones. But guess what? Phones aren't allowed in school.

WOOLLEY WILSON: Yes. And so, this is a really important point. And she has healthy skepticism because there's been a lot of failure in education around education technology. But this new kind of technology promises something different because it - because of the data that is included with it. So children in this environment are able to actually architect their own learning.

These are kids that have to learn how to learn. They're going to inherit a world and jobs and industries that don't yet exist, and so we have to get them to remake their skill sets. And we have to give them the abilities and - to do that. And with these technologies, many of whom you're actually used to - I mean, so you guys use Amazon, and you use Netflix, and these are technologies that get to know you. They make suggestions. We brought that into learning with DreamBox Learning.

MARTIN: Larry, you wanted to say something.

LARRY SCRIPP: Yeah, so I'm thinking about what Jessie's saying, and I think there's a - we don't need to make a false choice between technology and not technology. We need to make smart choices. In music education, it's peculiarly absent of technology. It's a huge amount of social contact, a huge amount of interaction is needed to go forward, and age groups have to work together and in large ensembles.

In this kind of context, I'm wondering how technology would work because we could sure use data points, and find out more about our processes, but we don't want to disembed the social process.

WOOLLEY WILSON: So let me just build on that. I mean, so there are three pieces of this. You have to start with a robust curriculum, and so we have that. But you also have to make it engaging, so that children will persist through challenge. Because they need to build their muscles, their learning muscles, and you do that through strenuous activity. And so you...

SCRIPP: Couldn't agree more.

WOOLLEY WILSON: ...So we make the environment very fun, but it's still very strenuous. And then the third piece is the data. So what can we learn about the moment? So there are technologies that were on the periphery of learning for a long time. Now these technologies impact learning at the point of instruction, real-time. And so kids are getting continuous feedback about making adjustments and guess what? It's a richer, more rewarding, engaging...

SCRIPP: Right.

WOOLLEY WILSON: ...And fun learning environment.

MARTIN: Father Joe.

PARKES: I think it's all about student-centered learning. When I was growing up, learning was teacher-centered. You sat in the classroom, and the teacher taught. You took notes, and then you took quizzes and tests and wrote papers. Nowadays, all the emphasis is on student-centered learning. So in our school, we train our teachers very, very effectively. They're visited once a week by the assistant principal or the principal. They're constantly giving feedback - how are you engaging the students in their learning?

We use technology, not quite as extensively as some other schools, but again, that's another part of student-centered learning. And then our work study program - our students, we really believe, learn a lot in the workplace because they're given tasks that they have to perform over an eight-hour workday. And they learn a lot from their colleagues at work and from their supervisors about how the real world operates.

And yet, they're in control of what they're doing each day. That's another example of student-centered learning. So I see the technology piece as one part of a bigger, radical change in education - away from teacher-centered learning, towards student-centered learning.

MARTIN: Well, we've only just scratched the surface, as I knew that we would, so I apologize for that. But I thank you all so much for your insights. And for just really wetting our appetites to learn more about these exciting innovations. And certainly, there are lots more questions to come, too. For example, one - Father Joe, I just got one from our tweeters, our education influencers who say, is the sole purpose of education getting a job? And that's obviously something that we're going to want to talk about. And you say? Very briefly.




PARKES: The sole purpose of education is to create well-rounded, competent, good citizens and good people who will change the world for the better. That's the goal of education, and we always have to keep that in mind. So the classical humanist idea still lives, I think.

MARTIN: Father Joe Parkes is president of Cristo Rey New York High School. That's a Catholic high school in East Harlem, New York. Also with us, Larry Scripp, director for the Center for Music in Education. Jessie Woolley-Wilson is the CEO of DreamBox Learning. They were all kind enough to join us at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Thank you all so much for joining us. More to come.

PARKES: You're welcome, thank you very much.

SCRIPP: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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