The Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School is one of 10 winners of the Super School Project, a competition to reinvent public education run by XQ. The philanthropy explains its mission this way: “We’ve gone from the Model T to Tesla and from the switchboard to the smartphone. Yet high school has remained frozen in time.”
Not at Brooklyn Lab, which currently serves 479 middle school students and has ambitious plans for a new high school. There, instruction is thoroughly defrosted from the so-last-century model common to traditional schools: teacher in front, desks in a row, everyone on the same lesson, dismissal by 3 p.m.
Instead, this innovative school seamlessly integrates technology into the curriculum so that teachers can “really teach 20 different students in 20 different ways,” says Rahul Patel, school lead for individualized learning.
Every student at this STEM-oriented school receives a combination of direct instruction, tutoring, and self-paced work. Each student (“scholar” in LAB parlance) spends two hours a day with tutors and at least, according to its website, “an hour each day in enrichment courses in the 360Lab, which combines small group or one-on-one work with technology-delivered learning instruction.”
Brooklyn LAB aspires to create a learning environment that fosters independent learners. According to EdSurge:
Students are encouraged to use mastery of their skills and technology resources to be creators of their own learning. They have a choice at the end of semester that can be anything from writing a paper to producing a video.
“They have that space to create and to really have project-based learning that scaffolds to independence,” says Erin Mote, one of the founders. (The other founder is her husband, Eric Tucker.)
The school day begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 5:30 p.m., with early dismissal on Wednesdays to allow for teacher professional development. Extra time is available during the summer.
Mote and Tucker project that between sixth and 12th grade, the extra time adds up over half a decade of additional learning.
This seems to sit well with LAB scholars, who are overwhelming poor and African-American. According to the Wall Street Journal, 20 percent of students live in homeless shelters and 40 percent have special needs, well above city averages.
An eighth-grader said, “Some people think that because it’s a bunch of Black kids at this school, it’s a bad school. That’s not true at all.” Indeed, student outcomes on state tests surpassed average district schools this year.
The $10 million from XQ, paid out over five years, will facilitate the LAB’s expansion to serve high schoolers. XQ is run by Laurene Powell Jobs of Emerson Collective and Russlynn Ali, former assistant secretary of civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education. “Deep collaborators” include intellectual, artistic, and educational giants Leon Wieseltier, Yo-Yo Ma, and Geoffrey Canada.
Much of America’s public school system remains freeze-dried in obsolete teaching methods that reject the current needs and future career aspirations of young digital natives. Schools like Brooklyn LAB provide a compass to the future. Yet it remains unclear if other schools, within and without New York City, can learn from LAB, open themselves to educational innovations, and reinvent high school.
XQ is betting that the answer is “yes.” Meanwhile, the scholars at Brooklyn LAB, who represent New York City’s neediest students, win the prize that will enable them to continue to achieve academic success.