The 1990s brought charter school laws and the New American Schools Development Corporation—both rooted in the standards-movement and based on the hypothesis that there was a better way to organize schools.
New Technology High School opened by the Napa School District in 1996. With its first graduating class, it was obvious that this was a special place and a foundation was formed to share this model with other communities.
Flush with foundation and government grants, the New Tech Network and several dozen other school developers built national networks of new schools. Charter management organizations got most of the attention, but a few networks including National Academies Foundation, Big Picture, and New Tech worked predominantly with districts to develop innovative new schools.
By 2004, it was obvious that some replication strategies worked better than others. Jim Shelton observed that networks with strong support and a well specified school model (i.e., tight/tight) were replicated with more fidelity and built networks that performed more like the model they were based on.
The New Tech Network is unique in several ways; the 87 schools in the network share a technology enabled project-based learning approach and a common learning management system now called Echo.
Each course at New Tech is made up of a series of projects (similar in size to units at other schools) which culminate in a rubric-scored performance assessment. Echo helps to ensure that each project is standards-based and rigorously scored. It also includes a big curated library of projects that teachers can use or adapt. Echo has some social learning features and does a pretty good job of promoting online professional development.
Reflecting the platform-based strategy, the network is led by former software exec Lydia Dobyns. She has a great team including Rick Lear (formerly Small School Workshop) and Chris Walsh (watch Chris interview me at CUE on SchoolTube).
In an unusual transaction for the nonprofit world, the New Tech Network was aquired by KnowledgeWorks, a Cincinnati-based operating foundation two years ago. (Check out their 2020 Forecast.) Former AOL CEO Barry Schuler and banker Chad Wick continue to push New Tech toward expanded impact.
Until recently, this pedagogy and platform school development strategy was unique. But in the last year, online learning providers K12 and Connections Education have begun forming partnerships with nonprofits and school districts to develop blended schools based on their respective curricula and school management platform.
Look for lots of innovation from New Tech, K12, Connections and other platform-based school developers over the next few years including mobile features and new unbundled adoption strategies. The next iteration of the platform-based school development strategy will be low cost blends for emerging economies featuring cheap tablets and lots of open content.
Visit a New Tech high school near you. Or better yet, call Lydia and start one in your neighborhood.