Last week, an April 1st front page New York Times article showcased an alternative elementary school in Manhattan's East Village that now requires an intelligence test (the E.R.B.) as part of the application test, charges $28,000 tuition for kindergarten, and has six families applying for each available slot in the school's preschool. The school, reports the Times, is led by "the founders and spouses of the Blue Man Group, an alternative theater troupe" who
were attracted to the Reggio Emilia philosophy of learning, which integrates what children want to learn with what teachers and parents want to impart. To that end, [the school] has two “provocateurs” on the staff whose job is to inspire different “threads of learning,” planting ideas and building areas of study around the ones that take.
has remained true to its progressive roots, with “imagination stations” and “glow time.” Children help direct the curriculum, and social and emotional skills are given equal weight to reading and math....
After a teaching candidate read “The Great Kapok Tree” to a class of first graders, they took interest in the rainforest. A provocateur built the classroom into a rainforest, replete with a kapok tree whose (plastic) leaves cover the ceiling. The children have studied the animals that live in the rainforest and are now exploring whether the Littles, characters from another story they read, might live in the kapok tree. They write letters to the Littles and even create math tests for them.Provocateurs and glow stations. Letters and math tests for The Littles. Anyone who spends any time visiting or reading about elite and model elementary schools should be forgiven for mistaking this article for an April Fool's day parody of current practices.
Once a week, 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds mix together at imagination stations grouped around subjects like language arts, music and movement. On a recent morning, one group was stationed in the hallway singing “Frère Jacques” in Mandarin; in a classroom, another group was imitating the sound of rain on a giant drum (it was pouring outside). When the children got overly excited by their Blue Man Group-style drumming, they calmed down with breathing exercises.
Another Blue Man inspiration is glow time, when natural or incandescent light is replaced by black light and children transform their environment using props like shaving cream, play dough or glow-in-the-dark blocks to study things like light, shadow and outer space.
The founders said that since many of their applicants were also trying to get into schools that required the E.R.B. test, it did not seem like too much of an imposition, because the test result can be sent to multiple schools.
The school, like many others, says that it does not require a minimum E.R.B. score, and that the test is one of many tools used in admissions.and
“It gives us one piece of the child, which is valuable,” said Renee Rolleri, another founder, “and we can better respond to their academic strengths and areas to work on.”
Despite the fact that it has no permanent real estate, limited financial aid and no track record of placing students in top schools, six families applied for each available slot in next fall’s preschool class.But perhaps these two striking facts are related. There isn't a lot of research that supports this approach to teaching, but there is a lot of research showing that standardized test scores predict academic success. If the school is going to avoid the most effective teaching strategies, then, to attract parents like Ms. Anderson, it had better make sure the students it admits are likely to succeed academically in spite of this.
Many parents are clearly unfazed by the school’s requirements and absence of a track record.
“This school was our top choice; we wanted to be a part of it,” said Marah Anderson, whose son Finnegan is in kindergarten. Ms. Anderson said that her son was accepted to two other schools, but that she preferred the holistic approach of the Blue School. “There is a lot of research that supports this approach to learning,” she said. “It’s just not as widely implemented.”