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Metro School Does Things its Own Way

Monday, April 14, 2008 at 10:00 PM

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On television, on radio, and online, ideastream is spending this week looking at what our kids need to learn to be competitive in the global economy. We’re calling the series, "21st Century Schools." What we’re hearing is that students not only need learn a lot more math and science, they need to learn how to think, to problem solve, to innovate, to communicate and to collaborate A new public high school in Columbus is leading the way in creating that kind of education. The Metro School is a small school--just 200 students so far--created in a partnership among the Ohio State University, Battelle, and 16 Franklin County school districts. Ideastream’s Dan Bobkoff visited Metro to see what makes it so different.

What can a snowball fight teach you about chemistry?

DeWITT: We’re going to see how accurate are they…

On a recent snowy day Metro School, teacher Peter DeWitt is sacrificing himself…

…or at least dignity for the sake of education. 

He’s letting his students throw snowballs at him to drive home what they are learning in chemistry class.

Teachers here will do just about anything to connect their subjects to the real world.

The Metro School doesn’t look or function like a normal high school. From the outside, it looks like a small, nondescript office building on the edge of the Ohio State campus. Inside, there are large open areas with round tables where classes convene, or students mingle. Classrooms have large windows and any visitor can see what’s going on.

The layout is designed to complement the school’s focus on what educators call STEM: an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.

MITCHELL: In this country, science, technology, engineering and math are really separate silos.

Brad Mitchell heads the Educational Council, which is kind of like Metro’s school board.

MITCHELL: If you get science educators with math educators, it really becomes difficult: who comes first? What do you teach when? How do you integrate stuff? Very few places in the country have integrated science, technology, engineering and math. 

But at Metro, students, like Elizabeth Roche and Antonio Watkins, say science and math are put in context.

ROCHE: For Trig class, we went to Ohio State and we measured different buildings and found the angles of different buildings, and found out how tall they are by different trig functions and that was really cool.

WATKINS: If you just sit there and they tell you that you’ll use this, you don’t really know what you’re going to use it for, it doesn’t really help you. But if you actually do what you’re told to do and apply it real world, it really gets you closer to your goals.

To connect school to the real world, Metro does things its own way.
Students have three classes a day, each lasting two hours. Most students get all their required classes like English and Math out of the way in just two years. That leaves two more years to have internships with local businesses, or get a jump start on college with free classes at OSU. Jeff Elliott teaches social studies at Metro.

ELLIOTT: Can you take kids from anywhere and expect them to perform at an accelerated level and also trust and behave well with one another.

So far, the answer seems to be yes. Students have open cubbies instead of lockers. The principal says there’s a real culture of trust and decency.

Now you might think this school with its trust and fast pace is just for the best and the brightest of Franklin County. But, Principal Marcy Raymond says that’s not the case.

RAYMOND: We test the students in reading when they come into Metro. We have students that scored a 400 Lexile reading score which is late 3rd grade all the way up through 750 which is entering grad school. So when we say we’re attracting all different kinds of kids, from all different kinds of environments, we truly are.

They ensure students of different abilities succeed by using the so-called Mastery System. Instead of grades like A, B, and C, all Metro students have to get at least 90% on a number of assessments to move onto the next class. Math teacher Lisa Floyd-Jefferson says that means students learn at their own paces but they don’t go to the next level until they have mastered the subject.

JEFFERSON: Some can do it in 10 weeks, some can do it in 12 weeks. Some need 14, 16, 18, so I think it’s a continuum.

People at Metro like to say it’s kind of a laboratory for other Ohio schools but it’s an amazingly well-equipped laboratory.  Metro has more teachers per student, tutors, financial support, and parental involvement than most Ohio public schools.  Duplicating that across the state would require a lot more resources and commitment than many schools have today.  Still, if Metro can show that its methods make a real difference in what students learn, that might go a long way towards persuading other communities and the state that this is what it takes to compete in the world today.  Cleveland plans to open its own school this fall that will be focused on math and science.  Akron has a similar middle school on the drawing boards. 

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