The top private k-12 schools in the U.S. charge just under $40,000 per year in tuition. They are important to watch because they are not constrained by budget or standards in public schools or even typical private schools. Instead, they are geared toward getting students into top colleges.
The problem is that in any given year, the school can only send two kids to each Ivy League school. Which means that half the graduating class will have to get some other value from the school. This requirement for another source of value is interesting. These private schools have the ability to look at what works to raise happy, productive adults, and they can do exactly what the research says.
The newest school in this bunch, Avenues, launched this fall with a program that basically mimics what upscale homeschoolers are offering to their kids. I am fascinated that the school is essentially an endorsement of homeschooling over public school:
Parents spend the day with their kids.
The school has a coffee area where the parents can hang out for as much or as little time as they want. The school is set up so kids can bounce back to their parent's coffee area whenever they want.
There's no set schedule.
Katie Holmes is sending her daughter there because of the flexible schedule, according to Radar Online. The school does not adhere to strict schedules and vacations and kids are expected to come and go whenever their parents want to take them.
Classrooms are not the focus.
The school is full of individual seating in cubicles and group seating on big squishy chairs so that kids can learn and explore however they want to. Sure, there are classroom-looking rooms tricked out with smart-boards and iPads at each desk. But there is a sense that kids need to walk around and make their own daily rhythms for learning.
Kids do apprenticeships instead of curriculum.
Kids are expected to do a year abroad. New York magazine points out that this is not actually even exceptional among private NYC high schools. What is exceptional is that the Avenues school aims to have five campuses in five cities (including London, Beijing and Mumbai) to make studying abroad a frictionless endeavor.
Focus is on specialization rather than well-roundedness.
The school talks about allowing kids to follow their passions. Which seems consistent with the emphatic disdain for standard curriculum. But after digging into the literature, New York magazine concludes that the school is really set up to brand your kid in a way that will differentiate him or her enough to get into a top college.
Which actually seems okay to me. I mean, if you can get yourself into a top college, and your parents can pay cash for the experience, it seems like a fun place to be.
And this, actually, is why I really like the school. Because it is so unabashadly running kids' lives according to what research says parents should do. Kids have self-directed learning, they spend their days with their parents, their parents are not pretending to be teachers, and kids are becoming experts at an early age.
Every parent should want this stuff for their kids because the research absolutely says it is best for kids. It's easier to pay someone else $40,000 a year to do this for your kid. But you can create that same experience with homeschooling.