The Dream is Ended- but not quite.
I received a birthday gift in 1992. It was the book, Horace’s School. From that gift came a seismic shift in the way The Harbour School would go forward. Horace’s School was written by Theodore R. Sizer. It is about a fictitious school and faculty. The book depicts the staff’s struggle to make their school more relevant to the students. In the end the faculty decides upon an approach that does not measure learning by tests, but rather by what the students can DO to demonstrate what they have learned. A rather radical concept for our school and for all schools at that time.
Out of that concept came a group that today includes 150 schools that have agreed to adhere to the coalition’s ten principles of what schools should be. The principles are impressive.
After I read the book, I thought- we could do that! Harbour never joined the Coalition of Essential Schools. It was expensive and required a commitment that we could not afford. But we did adopt and adapt the principles.
Over a period of five to six years, faculty determined what we wanted our students to be able to DO once they left our school. These became our Global Competencies and were identified in our first year. What is so intriguing is that 24 years later those competencies are still relevant and just as critical today as they were then. Perhaps some even more so, such as the competency that students would be able to use media to get correct information. Once we had the Global Competencies we kept scaffolding backwards from graduation, to high school, to middle school and finally to lower school. At each level, we asked and identified, what students needed to do in order to reach the next level of skill.
This approach has served our students and our school well. Our annual graduation survey shows that each year about 93-94% of our graduates are either in post-secondary education, working or both. These results are far better than any other post-graduation surveys that are out there.
While The Harbour School has blossomed using this approach, The Coalition of Essential Schools has not. The Board has decided to end the Coalition. Part of the problem is that the current schools’ climate would be abhorrent to Sizer. He believed that teachers were professionals and that they needed to meet the needs of students not the central office. He would never have allowed tests to measure what kids learn.
The Coalition is no more. That part of the dream is ended. But the belief in kids and teachers and teaching students for a better life rather than a better test score lives on in many places- including The Harbour School.