CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.
CCE Says a Fond Farewell to the Coalition of Essential Schools
I was first introduced to the teachings of Ted Sizer and the Coalition of Essential Schools when I began my student teaching year. Although I was only a few years out of the public school system myself, I naively assumed Sizer's vision was the new norm in education. I was fortunate enough to be placed with a progressive mentor who exemplified many of the best practices I was learning about in my graduate studies -which reinforced my understanding that this was the "new education."
After earning my teaching credentials through the Extended Teacher Education Program (ETEP) at the University of Southern Maine, I found I was in relatively high demand. I accepted a job in a middle school on the coast of southern Maine and realized pretty quickly that those progressive practices I'd come to know so well in the comfort of my ETEP cohort were, in fact, the exception in the public school system.
After a few years of trying to survive in this traditional middle school, I would move on to my first Coalition school, the fledgling Poland Regional High School. It was near my home and I wanted to teach high school. I didn't connect PRHS to Ted and the Coalition at first. I know that I felt the spirit of CES before I mentally realized I was in a Coalition school. Teachers collaborated. Students looped. There were no grades; students progressed when they were ready, not when the unit was over. Advisory anchored the community. Teachers put students at the center. I'd found a Coalition school! Several months into my time at PRHS, I would read a footnote on the bottom of some official school document that read: *Adapted from the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School. It dawned on me: Parker was Ted's school. I would move to Massachusetts a few years later and delve back into traditional middle schools and high schools before landing at Parker myself. It was like coming home.
Although I did not know Ted well, I can say I had the privilege of speaking with him from time to time in the halls of Parker. He was quite ill in the years leading up to his death, but he still came to Parker to see the kids, to work with faculty, and to speak to the greater Parker community. I was always a little star struck when I would see this man, a hero of mine dating back to my early years in education. So many of his ideas seemed to me so very simple and necessary...essential even, yet were largely ignored by the majority of schools in our country. For me, these ideas, what we know as the Ten Common Principles, were foregone conclusions: Teach children how to use their minds well. Go for depth over breadth. Goals should apply to all students. A tone of decency and trust. Personalization. Student as worker; teacher as coach. Demonstration of mastery. A commitment to the entire school. Resources dedicated to teaching and learning. Democracy and equity. These are the Coalition values. These are my values. They continue to guide all of my work here at CCE.
The Coalition of Essential Schools will be closing its doors permanently within the next few weeks. This is a sad loss for the world of education, but the small and mighty community of educators who embrace the Coalition and its principles will surely continue to keep the work at the forefront of the conversation. Twenty years later, I find the work that I was first introduced to in my cozy student teaching cohort in Southern Maine is still difficult and is still necessary. CCE, which has been a partner of CES since its birth in 1994, takes pride in carrying the CES message to educators throughout New England and beyond. That’s what sustainable change is. When Ted passed, the Coalition carried on. With the Coalition gone, we will all carry on.