investigating Acton Academy ... a good fit for Kentucky?

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In my quest to understand the best models nationally for potential use here in Kentucky in our public schools, I've come across Acton Academy. Acton is a network of schools (around 80 listed on their site) based out of Austin, TX. It is the ideological child of Jeff Sandefer, a former business teacher at the University of Texas and founder of the Acton School of Business. Before that, he was a multi-millionaire off-shore oilman and venture capitalist. He is also a fan of for-profit education and has influenced education in Texas to this end. 

Acton's primary model, what they are most known for, is that learners are completely independent with only rare interventions from adults. Students set their own goals, manage their own projects, and hold themselves and other students accountable. Their "quests" are their projects and the students are encouraged to take on quests in which they try to change the world in their own ways. Here is their 15 min. short documentary: 

To get this independence, they rely heavily on online learning platforms like Khan, Dreambox, and MOOC platforms like EdX. From my review, this heavily online platform reliance probably concerns me the most. However, learners also read a lot of books. At the high school level, the expectation is 4 life-changing books per year. 

The big difference between Acton and other networks like Summit or Big Picture is that Acton is focused on micro-schools and seems primarily designed only for smaller private or charter schools. It is more of an "unschool" and thus scaling will be harder. 

A book was written about the story of Acton by one of the founders if you want to get the really deep story. 

To start an Acton school, there is a $10,000 entry fee which gets you access to the tools, the name, and the network. Thereafter, you have to share 1% of the revenue with the network (not entirely sure what that means, but that is likely a big number). Like other networks, there are requirements to be a member such as satisfaction surveys. There is a new Acton Academy starting in Nashville TN this fall (2018) if those in Kentucky want to see a close one. 

The Getting Smart Podcast Interview is here: 

Overall, this particular network is not a good fit for Kentucky's public schools. What they are doing with learner independence is something very unique and laudatory. I can easily see how it would work well with many learners on a daily basis and would lead many of those students to find deep rooted passions which they could hopefully translate into careers. 

However, the network fees, the small school nature, and their mission (including the for-profit part) are poor fits for our public schools. The push for growth coupled with that for-profit nature are particularly a reason for pause. 

Thus, let's learn from them. Let's embrace more independence in our learners and more entrepreneurism in our leaders. Our own public school kids should be enjoying quests driven by their own world-changing passions. These are all things we can do within our existing systems. 

new school networks: first hints at the upgrade

When Summit Learning came to Kentucky for the first time at Next Gen a couple years ago, I was completely awe-struck. I told the audience members I felt like we were all driving different versions of Toyota and a Ferrari just drove by. 

In the couple years since, I have not really changed my opinion. There is something particularly special and powerful about this type of network combined with that type of platform that feels very much to me like the future. 

So, since then, I've been even more curious about new networks of schooling. There are a growing number of these networks (although at the price of $0 Summit seems the most popular) and they are expanding into Kentucky. 

None of this, of course, feels particularly different than what Ted Sizer was trying to do with the Coalition of Essential Schools, it just feels like a modern iteration. 

So, this is a bit of a deep dive into my thinking about these networks and how they are hinting at the upgrade of public education we all want so badly. 

This video explains how networks of schools and the related platforms are beginning to reshape schools in Kentucky and beyond.