Your High School is likely lying to you about being progressive.

Written on
January 1, 2018
Peter Hostrawser

My high school is being highlighted in a mini film series called America To Me directed by Steve James.  I am excited to see it.  In a preview of it, Steve called the high school I work in “progressive.”  Yeah… well, it’s not.  I also recently had a colleague of mine who has a daughter that is going to be a freshman in high school.  He took her to an open house for incoming students.  The high school touted all it’s academia successes through AP and ACT scores, high GPAs and college acceptance rates.  At the very end of the night, the school officials told my colleague and the rest of the visitors that the high school is “comprehensive and progressive.” They are lying.

Let me set the record straight on what a truly progressive school DOESN’T do.

  1. A progressive school doesn’t have courses based on levels like AP or Advanced. They teach to the individual student.  Many AP courses are still set in the traditional setting of classes sitting and being lectured by one instructor.  It is test based and not outcome based.  There is a score which is the goal and not actual learning.  Before you tell me that your kid can’t get into college without AP, do some research.  Check out the colleges Putney High School has sent their students to without an AP curriculum. Your kid doesn’t need AP to go to the next level of education. Don’t believe that lie.   
  2. A progressive school doesn’t push all their students into college. I can’t tell you how many of my students were pushed into college without ever being ready or even willing to go.  I have sat through IEP meetings where students have absolutely no good habits formed in order to get through even one semester on their own.    Traditional schools will tout their college acceptance rates and AP, ACT, and SAT scores.  Progressive schools look at the student and their growth.  Progressive schools realize that learning is not a race.  Students in progressive schools are looked at individually and not as machine parts are continuing on the same path at the same time in their learning journey.  
  3. A progressive school is not okay with slow moving change. Change is hard, especially for a school system.  Many administrators will tell you that change comes slowly. Many are okay with slow moving change.  That’s fine if you are a traditional school.  Progressive schools have administrators who are unwilling to accept the status quo and try new things often.  A progressive administrator is fearless in the pursuit of making students learning environments better.  They will fail and be okay with it.  They give their teachers and staff power to experiment and try new things with the learning environment.  Progressive administrators break down barriers that hinder progress in learning curriculum and environments.
  4. A progressive school doesn’t have halls that look the same as they were in 1960. I have seen many schools, including mine, that have hallways that have the original paint or wallpaper in them.  The learning environment in progressive schools looks like the working environments in the real world.  If your school looks old and dingy and claims they are progressive.  They are lying to you.
  5. Finally, progressive schools don’t lead students to a grade and a GPA. Progressive schools use badging systems.  Progressive school models give their students a combination of learning targets.  They give specific targets, random targets and challenging or extraordinary targets.  Grades and grade cards don’t exist in progressive environments.  The badging system encourages students to think differently.  It stresses creativity and motivation differently than a lousy letter.  Students are more in control of their own badges than their grades.

Look, I’m not saying that traditional education is all bad and everyone should go to progressive schools.  That is an individual choice families need to make for themselves.  I am saying that traditional education is only one way of doing things and more truly progressive types of education should be offered within public systems.  Many traditional schools out there claim they are progressive or inclusive when in fact they are not even close to anything but traditional.  Hold your community schools accountable by calling them on talking progressive while actually acting traditional.  Talk to or run for school boards to make change.  Vote in progressive educational leaders and politicians.  And SHARE THIS BLOG so others actually understand what progressive schools really are!


Peter Hostrawser
Creator of Disrupt Education
My value is to help you show your value. #Blogger | #KeynoteSpeaker | #Teacher | #Designthinker | #disrupteducation
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