Last spring, Frédérique Alexandre-Bailly, school Rector of the Dijon region of France, visited Queens Paideia. She reports directly to the French Minister of Education and is a formidable figure within the French education system, tasked with reform and innovation in her region. She was so impressed by what she saw at QPS that she invited us to make presentations to groups of leaders in French education.
Laurilyn Jones, Adam Hockman, and I spent several days in Paris this past November with more than 50 of Alexandre-Bailly’s colleagues, including heads of other French regions and leaders of educational innovation and reform. In several of the events we presented and explained our PIE system and our approach to the personalization of education. The French made a 2+ hour videotape of us that Alexandre-Bailly said she will use for instruction. They also took us to visit a demonstration school founded and operated by Pascale Haag. Through these experiences and many conversations, it was clear to us that the concerns underlying France’s reform movement have much in common with ours.
In our presentations, we spoke about QPS’s emphasis on thinking and inquiry skills, and the balance we strike between the academic realms and the social-emotional, self-management, communication, and collaboration competencies. Our French hosts expressed interest in how our learning managers work as an integrated, collaborative team; the close relationship they develop and maintain with every child over a period of years; that every student has a workstation that no one else uses; that students engage in daily reflection and self-observation; and the many ways in which we personalize the education every student receives, including adjustment of curriculum to reflect a child’s current needs and potentialities. Laurilyn Jones spoke about our work in assessment and Adam spoke about the importance of fluency training and precision teaching for the solidification and automatization of foundational skills.
We also spent several hours with Jérôme Saltet, co-author with André Giordan (also present) of the book Changer le College c’est Possible! on the ideal school for 11–15-year-olds. Saltet is creating such a school for 600 students in the outskirts of Paris, and is eager to visit QPS with his colleagues in order to learn more. Over a working lunch with François Taddei, founder and director of Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity, we listened to eight presentations by CRI PhD students on school reform, all impressive in their scope and energy.
A question we were asked several times is whether our model–especially our 6:1 student-teacher ratio–can be scaled up for much larger schools, and whether its benefits would hold up for socio-economically disadvantaged students. We responded that we believe the answer to both is “Yes,” and were in passionate agreement with our French hosts that personalization is essential and the challenge is to achieve it in practice. We found it heartening that our PIE model resonated so strongly in a different culture and education tradition. A key takeaway from our Paris meetings is that reform-minded educators quickly grasp the significance of what QPS is doing.