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Building Schools of Thought

Steven F. Wilson

March 28, 2015

On the day before the recent state math exams, I slipped into fourth-grade classes with some visitors at Brownsville Ascend Lower School. Our visitors might have expected to see teachers dryly reviewing practice problems. Instead, what they saw in every room was students doing the talking in a whole-class conversation—one student confidently explaining his method for solving the problem; another responding with an alternative mathematical strategy; a third admitting her puzzlement; still another offering her an explanation—and checking to make sure it resolved his classmate’s confusion. Students were rapt, the teacher looked on with pride, barely needing to say anything. Later that day, I received an email from one of the visitors. “We were all pretty blown away,” he wrote.

So, of course, was I. But not surprised.

With our goal to prepare all Ascend students to go to and succeed in college, and to lead lives of intellectual curiosity, agency, and purpose, we actively nurture and expect these kinds of rich conversations in classrooms. They are our daily rewards, these small triumphs. They fuel our work.

And we want still more. Because our aim is not “merely” to help a few thousand students escape the fate of failed urban schools. It is to demonstrate a new model for public education that can work in any city in America. With existing resources. Today.

In our new blog, Schools of Thought, we’ll join the conversation about how to overcome educational inequality in America, and we’ll chronicle our journey towards building our ambitious new model. In posts from Ascend leaders, teachers, parents, students, and outside experts, you’ll read about how our program of a rigorous and well-rounded liberal arts education for all students, offered in a warm and supportive setting, suggests a promising response to the many challenges recorded by observers of public education in the U.S. and abroad. In upcoming posts, we’ll explore in depth each of the three essential dimensions of our modela liberal arts curriculum inspired by some of the finest schools in the country, a responsive and restorative cultural model, and a dedication to truly public schoolsand expand the discussion beyond the Ascend community. We invite you to join in the exchange by submitting a post of your own to

Before us are limitless possibilities. For our students. For American education. For making good on the animating idea of America, equal opportunity for all. Let’s explore them together here.

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