Teaching the Hardest Kids to Teach.

The New York Times yesterday published a story about a new school in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn that throws a few classrooms of children together in one room for an active, group learning environment.

The founder, Shimon Waronker, developed the idea with several other graduate students at Harvard. It draws its inspiration, he said, from Phillips Exeter Academy, an elite boarding high school in New Hampshire where students in small classes work collaboratively and hold discussions around tables.

But Mr. Waronker decided to try out the model in one of the nation’s toughest learning environments, a high poverty elementary school in which 20 percent of the children have been found to have emotional, physical or learning disabilities. The idea, he said, was to prove that his method could help any child, and should be widely used elsewhere. “I didn’t want to create an environment that wasn’t real for everyone else and then say, look at my success,” he said.

In the article, the students are a bit out of control, and the teachers stressed. But that's probably how many teachers and many students in public schools across the country feel anyway. Waronker's argument is that here, it's out in the open.

We need more innovation in schools that recognizes children are active and sometimes like to be loud. Behavioral problems among children are real, but it's hard not to wonder whether some problems are a result of unrealistic expectations that we've placed on young kids.

But most impressive here is how Waronker is working with a whole community of children -- some of whom have problems -- and expecting them all to learn. Too often, charter schools, which are the schools most allowed to innovate, skim the cream. While a good charter-school education makes a huge difference for every smart kid it reaches, those smart kids were more likely to have a leg up anyway. We have to worry about how we teach the hardest to teach as well.

-- Monica Potts

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