The $10 million winning Grand Rapids high school

I recently had a chance to visit the Grand Rapids Public Museum School. Quite impressive. Clearly the folks at the XQ: The Super School Project thought so too. They chose the school as one of ten winners of $10 million. XQ’s mission is “to remake America’s high schools for today”.

Both websites are worth exploring. They give you a sense of what high schools should look like for all kids.

XQ wants to stimulate the recreation of American high schools to build skills needed in a world where what humans will be asked to do is being constantly reshaped by smarter and smarter machines. The capacities they want to build are:

: Proficient in academic core subjects such as math and languages, to prepare them for college, career, and life.
: Curious about the world and engaged in a more just and functional democracy.
Sense-makers and generative thinkers, creating many ideas in ambiguous and new situations.
Self-driven and self-directed — inventors of their own paths, careers and lives.
Self-aware team members who respect diversity and diverse points of view.

The Museum School is located in the Grand Rapids Public Museum and is a partnership between the museum, Grand Valley State University, Kendall College of Art & Design/Ferris State University, City of Grand Rapids, and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. It will ultimately serve grades 6-12. Its open to all Grand Rapids students chosen by lottery. Its not a test-in school.

What makes the school special is its design. The principal told me they designed the school backwards from the skills they thought students would need to be successful in life and work in 2050. Wow! That’s exactly the perspective we need in designing schools. Thinking about what capacities today’s kids will need over a lifetime in a world which is going to be constantly transformed by smarter and smarter machines increasingly able to do what humans do today.

The answer they came up with is far beyond what is on the standardized tests that dominate how our schools are designed today. They have designed the school around creativity, curiosity and collaboration.

You can see why XQ chose them as one of only ten grant winners out of 700 national applicants.

The folks behind both the Museum School and XQ: The Super School Project understand, unlike far too many educators, policymakers and business leaders, is that schooling needs to be fundamentally redesigned to build broad skills rather than just narrow content skills that are on the test or skills specific to an occupation. The reason why so many high school graduates are not ready for either college or career is predominantly what schooling is designed to achieve, not execution. Yes we need schools that are executed better. But better execution of the current design will still leave far too many high school graduates not ready to succeed either in college or career.

The Museum School has defined the foundation skills needed for life and career success as creativity, curiosity and collaboration. XQ has defined them as masters of all fundamental literacies; holders of foundational knowledge; original thinkers for an uncertain world; learners for life and generous collaborators for tough problems.

At Michigan Future we believe the 6Cs from the book Becoming Brilliant define the skill set that all kids need:

  • collaboration
  • communication
  • content
  • critical thinking
  • creativity
  • confidence

Each definition requires fundamental change in what we teach (curriculum) and how we teach (pedagogy).

Its far past the time when we should have rethought high school––actually all schooling. As the XQ folks say: “We’ve gone from the Model T to the Tesla and from the switchboard to the smartphone. Yet high school has remained frozen in time.” That needs to change quick.


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