From Sweden to NY: Self-paced school

In a Kunskapsskolan Education (KED) school, middle-class Swedish children set their own curriculum and learn at their own pace. It’s the anti-KIPP, says Take Part. And it’s coming to the U.S.  A group of New Yorkers have applied to open a Manhattan charter middle school on the KED model, reports, which notes, “The KED model aligns with the progressive educational practices used in many District 2 schools serving middle-class neighborhoods.”

KED promises personalized learning:

The steps and courses offer different kinds of lesson formats, such as lectures, workshops, seminars, laboratory experiments etc, which you and your personal tutor will put together in your weekly schedule. If you feel that any subject is particularly difficult, you can choose to devote more time in your personal schedule to teacher-led learning or independent studies in this subject.

New students set academic goals with the help of a tutor and their parents, KED says. The goals are used to create an educational plan with goals for each week and each term. The tutor monitors progress; parents follow online through a web portal that shows the student’s results and teachers’ comments.

KED is highly structured, says Claudia Hindo, who’s on the KED Manhattan board.

“Students, their parents, and their teachers set high achievement goals, measured by proficiency goals, and all students will be expected and supported in reaching and/or exceeding all NYC proficiency standards . . . Rather than ‘laissez-faire’ then, students are actually far better known to their teachers and it is impossible to fly beneath the radar. As proof of the system, Kunskapsskolan students consistently outperform their peer schools, year after year.”

The Manhattan charter will serve students with special needs, those who aren’t fluent in English and students from low-income families, Hindo asserts. “We are excited that data proves Kunskapsskolan’s educational model has been successful across a wide range of abilities and groups.”

It’s likely KED Manhattan will appeal to affluent, educated parents who see learn at your own pace as learn faster. But setting personal learning goals could work for a range of students, if they’re followed closely to ensure they’re meeting targets. I’d like to see a KED option.

Update: Here’s a link to a 2008 Economist story that compares KED schools to IKEA.

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  1. This kind of thing ONLY works for kids with brainy parents. It becomes a fiasco for kids who do not learn a lot of academic content, academic orientation, self-control and good manners from their parents. Foisting progressive ed on lower class kids is educational malpractice. It’s probably not that great for upper class kids either. The kids at this school in Sweden are probably from uber-yuppie families and would out-perform their peers in any educational setting.

    This is Dewey warmed over. When will we stop being deceived by old products with new labels?

  2. Bright kids can be found at ALL socioeconomic levels. In fact, the students who would benefit most from this kind of “go as fast as you want to” education are the ones from low-income families as they tend to lack access to the kind of afterschool enrichment that wealthier families can provide. If they’re not getting intellectual stimulation at school, they may find it difficult to get it at all. 20% of high school dropouts have an IQ in the gifted range- we as a society need to figure out a way to better serve their needs so that they can maximize their potential.

  3. CW,

    I’m not talking about intelligence. I’m talking about mental nutrition. Upper class kids tend to get more of it. And this allows them to navigate the freewheeling atmosphere of a progressive classroom without crashing and burning. Other kids get lost, succumb to poor self-control, fail to conceptualize on a high level because they haven’t been given the knowledge building blocks that the lawyers’ kids have and so flounder at the complex projects that progressive ed loves… Of course there are exceptions. I see this phenomenon every time I implement a TCI activity in my history class.

  4. Ben, I’d have to heartily disagree with you on this one. As someone who has taught low-income kids, I can tell you that most of them would benefit from an environment that encourages them to work at their own pace. Sure, there are some kids who have trouble handling the balance of freedom and responsibility, but a lot of that has to do with socialization. If you start kids at an early age with this system, it’s not any more confusing than current systems. “Foisting” status quo ed on children currently is the worst option. Allowing people to have control over their lives is empowering and that goes for anyone, given proper guidance. My students improved dramatically once I was able to sit down with them and have them decide on their own goals and specific areas they wanted to work on. Our current systems make it really difficult to spend the time necessary to help students push themselves.

  5. I don’t know what a TCI activity has to do with the self-paced learning described in this article. But I would not be shocked to discover that kids need to learn how to learn before they can really benefit from a self-paced environment. This seems to me to be at least as important as the actual subject matter. It’s a life-long skill, as opposed to passively sitting in at a desk drooling while someone performs at the front of the room.

    I can see using a more traditional method as a backstop for students who are unmotivated or unable to progress quickly enough under their own steam, but denying those who are able to move ahead the opportunity to do so is not education, it’s anti-education.

  6. The Kunskapsskolan aren’t progressive schools — at least, not as I understand the concept. They remind me of the Keller plan, a highly successful approach to education no progressive educator has ever embraced to my knowledge. I took two courses on the Keller plan in two different colleges, and I wish I could have taken all of my courses on the Keller plan.

    I wouldn’t call these schools the anti-KIPP, either.

    There are two ways for children move at their own pace: via individualized instruction and via homogeneous grouping.

    According to Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion) the great charter schools group students for instruction. Individual students inside the group are moving at the pace that is right for them.

    One more observation: in Sweden, the Kunskapsskolan are for-profit schools.

    I wrote a post about the Kunskapsskolan (“Knowledge Schools”) at Kitchen Table Math a while back & will email Joanne the Economist article I excerpted.