By: Diane Ellis Miles, Ed.D.
Founder and President: The Ellis Academy
Increasingly, both in our local communities and throughout our country, cries of frustration over quality and standards in education are heard in schools, business, industry, colleges and universities, and the government. Questions abound as to why students can go through 13 years of schooling and are still unable to read, write, or ‘make change’! Added to this is the growing demand of business and industry for employees who can write and speak well.
Over the past 20 years, extensive funding has been made available to grades K-16 to raise the quality of education for all students. Core Competencies, “No Child Left Behind”, National Goals Commission, U.S. Department of Labor’s SCANs Skills, National Standards, State Standards, STEM, and other extensive efforts have not yielded the desired results. With all of these initiatives, why are our students dropping out prior to high school graduation or performing at a level below students of other societies and countries?
The issues in education today cannot be addressed in one article; however, there are some interesting factors that deserve our attention. One issue is the rate at which change occurs in education. In 1989, Herbert Langford identified that it takes business and industry 3 years to bring an idea from research and development to the market; health care takes 10 years; and education typically requires 30 years. 30 years! Think how much the world has changed since the early 1980s.
There are many inhibiting factors to this thirty year change phenomenon. While money spent on educational initiatives clearly has not been one, the size and multi-
layered organizational structure and the large number of students needing to be educated in any one school do seem to be significant factors. Today, among professional educators, the focus has been how to create a culture of learning, not only in school, but also in work and life.
In a culture of learning, students, faculty, parents, and administrators are not ‘layered’ and separated. While the ethos of a school may be business-like, it is also innovative, creative, and participative. As an example, students learn about democracy and a representative government by developing their own school government based on our nation’s documents as the model. They write, critique, struggle over critical issues, debate, and vote. Everyone in the school is included. Each arm of the school: students, faculty, and parents participate in their own group with a representative as ex-officio to the other groups. Information flows. Ideas are clarified. It is not just for one age group, one grade group or one interest group, it is a whole school experience.
Another example is an emphasis on business, finance, and entrepreneurship. While theories, principles, and ethics are learned, each student studies and develops a business for which she has a unique talent and/or an interest. If she lacks knowledge or skill in an area, she must acquire those skills to proceed. She must develop her expertise, test market her product, price the items, and bring it to the public.
How can these types of examples be implemented? Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in schools today is creating small learning environments of students. Currently priorities seem to be focused toward sports for a few and away from learning for all—a culture of spectatorship. Returning to an environment that engages students with rich discussion and creative expression brings forth new life.
It was with the intention of creating this integrated and focused culture of learning
that The Ellis Academy was formed. After a three year period of formation and piloting of courses and projects, The Ellis Academy has made itself available to families seeking a complete education for their daughters and grand-daughters from 4K through Grade 12.
The Ellis Academy (its parents, students, and faculty) is committed to an interactive, complete, classical, and ‘hands on’ learning environment in small groups (1:8 as ideal). This whole-school learning environment requires mastery in the Core Curriculum (classical courses; ancient and modern languages; math, life sciences, and technology). Projects, which are integrated real world problems applying knowledge and skills from the courses and the arts, prepare each student for college, work, and life. Within the culture, students are recognized as individuals who are at different stages of development with varying gifts and talents. Scholarly faculty members are facilitators and guides who encourage active participation as opposed to being lecturers who provide passive listeners with all the information. Thus, The Ellis Academy provides an educational environment in which students, faculty, and administrators interact in a respectful, collegial environment without sacrificing the understanding of roles and responsibilities.