The philosophy and the workings behind the AltSchool school chain are unconventional. Not only has the school poached talented individuals from Google, Uber, Rocket Fuel and Zynga, it has also just recently secured a $100 million from some of the biggest names in the Silicon Valley. Founded in 2013 by Max Ventilla, who himself was a Google employee; the schools target children from kindergarten to eighth grade. Instead of hoarding students in multiple classrooms, the “microschools” have children attends sessions in multiple age groups. The classrooms are larger than a typical classroom and are designed to be truly multipurpose. There are no principles on site and the administrative responsibilities are centralized within specialized teams across all the different branches. However, the most distinctive part of the school system is its unique pedagogy. The schools are, in all honesty, science labs where engineers and develop customized hardware and software which allows the teachers to create more personalized education plans. The plans are open to being tailored in line with the requirements of the child. There are no report cards and teaching goes beyond the classrooms, into the wider and more practical, avenues of communal and social living practices.

The educational philosophy pursued by AltSchools is student-centered learning focused on ‘personalized education’, where the students are allowed to pursue their interests, at their own pace. The teachers and parents modify and develop ‘Personalized Learning Plans’ for every child in order to ‘cultivate each child academically, socially and emotionally’. In that sense the school is adaptive in its nature, from macro-level customizations in the classroom environment to micro-level customization in the form of child specific learning activities.

Conventional schooling, as is explained by Shannon Arvizu who holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Columbia University, the focus of teachers is mainly on the horizontal part of “T” i.e. the students are introduced to a wide range of subjects. However, and this is where Shannon insists the problem arises, the students are not encouraged to develop indepth understanding of any subject of their choice. As these students proceed to college and workplace, they encounter the exact opposite where there is ‘too much emphasis on the “I”‘. Professionals hence, based on the need of the hour, divert all of their attention on to the singular point of interest and hence are unable to cross collaborate in their true ability and potential. The solution, Shannon adds, quoting John Hennessy who is the Stanford University President and Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO which is the leading Design and Innovation Consulting Firm in the world, is a pedagogy which not only promotes but embodies the idea of T-shaped individuals.

The curriculum adapted in the AltSchools seeks to do just that. The official website predicts that “When our students graduate from a K-8 education, they will have acquired deep mastery in one or more areas of passion. Throughout the course of their education, and particularly in middle school, students have ample opportunities to explore their interests and cultivate uniquely differentiated strengths. With mentorship from teachers and experts in the community, AltSchool students develop competence that far exceeds the baseline set by typical standards in their area of interest and would be recognized as significant by adult practitioners in the field… [The graduates] will have met the expectations of widely accepted standards, such as Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. They will have had myriad experiences working collaboratively and iteratively on real-world projects that foster nimble thinking across subject areas.”

A child’s journey within the AltSchool starts with a ‘student interview’ where the teachers understand and record the child’s strengths, learning styles, goals and interests; all of which form the ‘Learner profile’. This profile is then used to create a Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) which is evolved with the contributions and feedback from the teacher, parent and the student. The plan is designed keeping in mind standardized benchmarks, objectives and milestones. The plan makes use of a tailored curriculum/playlist of learning activities and experiences. The teachers are required to make weekly activities for the students in line with their increased knowledge and skills or changes in interests and passions. All of these however integrate real-world experiences in order to make the learning process a lot more practicable and applicable in the prospective of the ‘real world’.

There is real time assessment of the child’s progress every week. The child is tested in the expression they themselves are most comfortable with. The parents too are given access to an app which they can use to get feedback on their child’s progress and what he/she is learning.

Altschools in its efforts at reforming education does two very important things, both of which are deemed necessary by the wider audience of academics around the world. One, it fights the convention and ridicules the monotony of an obsolete education system. Academics have insisted that standardized curriculum not only fails to teach the child of today what is necessary for the real world, it also chains them to the ground, impeding the discovery and exploitation of their potential. The standard curriculum does not account for the child’s potential; their strengths and weaknesses and the interests and passions. It relies on the ‘one size fits all’ belief and violently [emotionally or physically] challenges anyone who rebels against this norm. The individual is hence lost in the many to become someone who is lost in true sense of the word. AltSchool challenges this by enhancing one’s individuality and allowing each one to learn and grow at one’s pace.

The second important achievement of these AltSchools is their integration of technology. Each student is given an ipad or a chromebook according to their age and are allowed to truly experience and ruminate in the world of information and knowledge internet and technology exposes them to. These students hence grow up with a better understanding and utility of the internet in comparison to those who go to extremes of making technology strictly a part of either their leisure time or professional lives, not both. The students hence are more technologically advanced and can better learn and equip to the innovation that time brings.