Imagine a school where there are no academic requirements, no curriculum, and no tests. Children have total control of their education and are free to do what they want all day, every day. And parents pay $8200 a year to send their children there.
Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts has been operating this way since 1968. More than 30 schools worldwide have imitated the Sudbury model, and over 200 schools identify similarly as “democratic schools.” These schools are designed based on the belief that children have an innate curiosity to learn and do best when they direct their own learning.
Why do parents send their children there?
Sudbury Valley School admits anyone who wants to enroll between the ages of 4 and 18. Many parents send their kids from a young age because they believe that kids do best when they learn what they want to learn. Other students come to Sudbury because they had various issues in traditional school systems including rebellion, learning difficulties, and emotional problems.
How does it work?
Sudbury is administered through a democratic process where every student and staff member has an equal vote. In fact, students outnumber staff 20 to 1. There’s no age segregation; four-year-olds can hang out with teenagers. Many staff members are part time and have rich careers as historians, businessmen, psychologists, artists, among others.
Learning is self-directed and occurs informally through having conversations, starting projects, reading for enjoyment, and playing games. If students are interested in a particular topic, they work with staff and other students to organize courses and find resources. The requirement for getting a high school diploma is to write a thesis about how they are prepared to be an adult. 95% of students graduate.
What happens after graduation?
You might think that graduates are not so likely to go to college. After all, there are no transcripts, there’s no focus on college preparation, and many students enroll because they had problems in school to begin with. But 90% of graduates end up going to college. That’s better than the national average of 66% (from the same income bracket). More interestingly, 42% of graduates end up becoming entrepreneurs.
Many graduates say that they benefitted from a self-directed education because they were more motivated than their peers, lacked fear of authority figures, and got a head start in their field of interest. They work hard at doing the things they love to do.