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The Family Model of Schooling Revisited

Last year, elementary school teacher Kathleen Stark had 21 children in her class. This year, in a different school, she has 110.

At Ashley Park PreK–8 School in Charlotte, N.C., Stark shares responsibility for the second- and third-graders in her “family” with six other classroom teachers, two special education teachers, a Title I tutor, and a facilitator. In the family model, as it’s called, the team pores over assessment data, regularly grouping and regrouping students to figure out which adults can best help them learn. Stark started the year teaching 18 of the best readers. For math, Stark and a special education teacher team teach 13 students who are struggling. “Our kids don’t have any idea who the assistant is, who the [special education] teacher is,” says principal Tonya Kales. “All they know is this school is full of adults who work with them.”

The family model originated 20 years ago at the Children’s School of Rochester, a magnet school in New York state serving large numbers of immigrant children. In their 2008 book The Strategic School: Making the Most of People, Time, and Money, authors Karen Hawley Miles and Stephen Frank, co-founders of Education Resource Strategies, cite the model as a smart way to use limited staff to reap the benefits of small-group instruction, flexible grouping, and collaborative teaching.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter.

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