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School of Me: Letting Students Study What They Want, When They Want Is The Latest Education Trend

By design, some students go through two years of kindergarten in Middletown, New York.

People associate repeating grades with disastrous consequences. But in the Middletown City School District, the kindergarten repeaters often end up ahead of their peers in later grades — standout students who avoided getting forever labeled as performing “below expectations.” They’ve had the extra instruction they needed, when they needed it. The district has worked to remove the stigma of being “slow,” and has stopped moving children in lockstep through school in grade bands defined by age. They now focus on each child’s individual needs.

“We have proven the fact that all children can learn — and can learn well — under the right instructional circumstances,” said Kenneth W. Eastwood, the district’s superintendent.

About a decade ago, leaders in this public school district nearly 70 miles northwest of New York City decided to radically change the way they provide education to its diverse and academically challenged student body. They decided to “personalize” learning for every child, which means that they tailored lessons to each student’s needs, interests and learning pace. They gave each student access to technology that helps teachers customize their lessons. And they ended social promotion, so that struggling students are no longer shuttled along to the next grade level simply to keep them with the herd of similarly aged classmates.