Modern Red Schoolhouse
The Modern Red Schoolhouse (MRSh) is part of a larger effort in the United States to design schools for the twenty-first century–schools where all students can achieve world-class academic standards. In the early 1990s, during its design and pilot phase, MRSh was housed at the Hudson Institute, a public policy research organization in Indianapolis, Indiana. The institute was awarded a competitive five-year contract from the New American Schools Development Corporation to develop the design, pilot it, and provide training and support to schools that chose to adopt it.
The Modern Red Schoolhouse design for twenty-first-century schools evolved around a central premise: All students can master high academic standards, but they vary in the ways that they learn best and in the time that they need to learn. While simple in concept, this premise constitutes a stark contrast to the ways in which public schooling evolved during the twentieth century in the United States–when expectations for learning varied by the presumed ability and interest of a given student, yet the pedagogy and time to learn was the same for all students. The MRSh premise is built from research in sociology and psychology showing that: (a) intelligence is heavily influenced by a learner's effort and opportunity to learn, rather than simply inherited, and (b) instructional methods that make effective links to students' prior experiences and learning are essential to learning.
The MRSh design seeks to structure a school environment that allows students to vary their level of effort to meet academic standards and enables teachers to use a variety of pedagogies and adapt instructional strategies to meet the needs of students. High academic standards are the same for all students. The MRSh design assumes that schools are accountable for student outcomes, but proposes giving schools considerable freedom in selecting strategies to achieve student outcomes in terms of staffing, instructional design, and the use of time. Community and parent involvement focuses on activities that support student learning–whether it be assisting teachers in establishing links between disciplinary knowledge and concrete problems in industry and communities, or by providing students with additional opportunities to advance their understanding or mastery of standards outside the regular school day.
This design views assessment as an ongoing activity embedded in the instructional process. Remedial courses should not be necessary; rather, extra time or varying approaches are available as needed in any given week. Formal assessments in the original design include capstone units that, taken collectively, address all academic standards through interdisciplinary performance assessments. Capstone units are interdisciplinary units that have a cumulating performance assessment intended to allow students to demonstrate mastery of a number of academic standards. As part of a larger assessment system, they provide teachers with data regarding a student's readiness to take one or more subject exams to confirm their mastery. A more traditional set of subject exams, common to all schools, verifies that students have met the necessary level of mastery required of all MRSh students. Extending the services already available to students with special needs, the design expects teachers to work with students and their parents to develop an Individual Education Compact, which is an ongoing plan for student learning that specifies the responsibility of each party (student, parent, and teacher). As students mature, they take increasing responsibility for proposing the compact, constrained only by the standards they are ultimately required to master. Technology is not only used for instructional activities, but is an essential tool for communication within the school community and for management of classroom instruction.
In developing training to support wider adoption of the design among existing schools, MRSh sought to enable schools to complete substantial portions of implementation within a three-year period with twenty to thirty days of technical assistance a year. The structure and content of the assistance assumes that schools are at different starting points along a continuum of implementation–thus the need to customize the time and methods of implementation at each school. Similarly, the MRSh design calls for developing the actual plan of instruction at each school to reflect the state or district academic standards and the prior cultural and academic experiences of the students attending the school.
In 1998 federal funding became available that allowed schools with economically disadvantaged students to adopt a Comprehensive School Reform Design, which would enable them to effect substantial improvements in student achievement over a three-year period. In this massive scale-up, MRSh Institute–which had been established as an independent organization in 1997–adapted the original model to serve these schools. In general, the formal assessment system in the original design was replaced by that of the relevant state or district, and the technology acquisition was adapted to meet the various exigencies of urban school districts. The MRSh Institute's essential contribution to school reform has been to operationalize the notion of a standards-driven school and classroom and, as such, many districts rely upon its services to assist schools in reframing their work to match district or state standards. From 1993 to 2002 the Modern Red Schoolhouse Institute had served 130 schools in fifty-six districts and provided district-wide services in five metropolitan areas.
MODERN RED SCHOOLHOUSE INSTITUTE. 2002. <www.mrsh.org>.
SALLY B. KILGORE
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