A team of three experienced educators are crossing the country to identify successful practices from schools of every kind before they design and open a model public school. Follow their journey.

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For twenty years, innovation from new schools has excited reformers about the promise of a new era in American education.

Charter schools have been at the center of that excitement and promise. The charter school movement has greatly impacted the direction of education over the last decade. Notable charter schools in the late 1990's and early 2000's began to show that a more traditional brand of education proved to effectively raise test scores for underprivileged children. We call these "no excuses" schools. Today, these schools have grown into large networks and continue to grow in size and strength. Culturally, they have strict behavior expectations, require parent participation and value college graduation as the ultimate goal for each student. Structurally, they use a business model of management with high expectations and accountability. Meanwhile, many of the most prestigious public and private schools are largely experiential in nature and offer children the opportunity to learn by doing. Students participate in a variety of educational experiences including group work, independent exploration, field trips, and in-depth discussions. We call these institutions "experiential" schools. Teachers strategically plan and facilitate these experiences, which lead to moments of discovery and a deep understanding for students. Progress is documented using a variety of measures including formal assessments, observations, conferences and student work. Teachers utilize this data to inform their instruction and respond to the academic needs of the students.

Both of these pedagogical approaches have been met with opposition. Critics of "no excuses" schools argue that they do not utilize developmentally appropriate practices. Furthermore, their skill based curriculum are solely dedicated to achieving high standardized test scores without embedding the skills in a real world context. "Experiential" schools are criticized for creating the rich and authentic contexts without including the direct instruction that leads to a proficiency in the grade-level benchmarks.

However, both approaches have also been praised for academic achievements. Students at the most successful "no excuses" schools have shown proficiency in meeting grade level benchmarks, especially in neighborhoods where exemplary institutions of education have been historically denied. Successful "experiential" schools are celebrated for developing well-rounded, critical thinkers who can apply the knowledge they learn in school to the outside world.

Teachers espouse the successful components and philosophies of these two approaches in a range of academic environments. Their tireless efforts and proven track records of student success are at the heart of effective classrooms across America. Too often, the expertise of these experienced practitioners goes underutilized and under-represented both at the micro-level, during development and leadership of individual schools and at the macro-level, where policy is set and broader educational reform takes place.

The Odyssey Initiative team intends to learn from these experts and use their wealth of knowledge to help inform the creation of our school's model. We believe that an increased national awareness of the best practices and strategic planning of effective teachers will raise the quality of the discussion surrounding education policy as well as our level of achievement nationwide.
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