There are many heady experiments out there, but this month kicks off a head-to-head battle that's worth watching. Two schools—Avenues: The World School and the Academy for Software Engineering—open in New York with very different philosophies. Is either a model for the future?
Avenues: A for-profit K-12 institution that can design a wholly new curriculum. But, says Thomas Hatch, codirector of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching, "that doesn't mean there are prepared teachers out there. They're going to have to invest in professional development."
AFSE: The specialized public high school will offer a unique tech-centric curriculum. The challenge is prepping students, says Andrew Rotherham, a partner at Bellwether Education: "Especially in a public system, students may arrive at high schools reading at a third- or fourth-grade level. All effort goes into catching them up."
Avenues: A globalized curriculum means bilingual classrooms and study-abroad opportunities for all ages. With eventual plans for 20 campuses worldwide, Avenues may struggle to homogenize lessons across borders. "They'll have to deal with local circumstances and demands," says Hatch. "How will they adapt?"
AFSE: Courses in mobile app development introduce students to programming, and mentorship opportunities offer real-world experience. To keep classes fresh, teachers will need to spend time in the tech industry and invite leading developers to guest lecture, says Leslie Siskin of New York University's Steinhardt School."
Avenues: Both ultra-elite and ultra-competitive, Avenues has 2,600 students vying for 1,000 spots that cost $40,000 a year. But, says Rotherham, high price doesn't guarantee a superior education: "People think that it puts you on track to certain schools. It's just a credentials kind of regime."
AFSE: With a public-school budget, AFSE may have trouble funding new technology. This is where the mentorship program becomes especially important, says Hatch. "If you farm out a lot of instruction and mentorship, you don't have to fund all the hardware and software yourself."
A version of this article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.