Team-based learning
Traditional stand-and-deliver teaching, where the teacher stands and the students deliver, is no longer relevant, says Dr. Ellen Weber, a veteran teacher and co-founder of the Multiple Intelligence Teaching Approach.

In an age in which information has expanded exponentially, she says, "Answers are almost obsolete. Teamwork allows room for multiple approaches and unleashes different abilities and talents." One student might excel at online research, another may have visual skills, a third might be good at writing reports. Everyone's brain is put to work.

Teamwork, or "collaborative learning," as it's often called in education parlance, is the cornerstone of the schools in Union City, New Jersey. This inner-city public school system has become, through the success of its reform efforts, a virtual education mecca, the place where all ailing educators make a pilgrimage (including, incidentally, the principal of Chicago's Wadsworth Elementary). "We were in terrible straits in 1989," says Union City's Fred Carrigg. Test scores had cratered and the drop-out rate was soaring. "We sat down and said, Why do urban school districts fail?"

The surprise, says Mr. Carrigg, "is not that we accomplished what we intended - to prepare students for the working world - but as an unanticipated byproduct, they began to do better on traditional tests like the SAT." The number of students taking this college entrance exam has grown 44 percent over the last three years, to 73 percent of the school system's eligible students, and the number of students scoring over 1,000 also has risen, to more than 11 percent of the students who take the test.

No Textbooks
In its self-overhaul, Union City also tossed out the idea of textbooks, partly because the school system couldn't afford them, and partly because they were seen as outmoded. "So we got off the bandwagon of using national textbooks. We said, we're going to build a curriculum truly based upon teaching skills and abilities," Carrigg says.

But if not textbooks, what? Union City stocked classroom libraries with regular books, the kind real people read, and, as they became available, CD-ROMs. Students at the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center in Providence, Rhode Island, rely on Internet research; interviews with real people (a student learning about finance talks to a banker, for instance); resources at local businesses and institutions, such as a courthouse law library; and what one student calls "real books."

Students at High Tech High use classroom texts that range from novels and works of philosophy to Web pages and streaming video. Instead of relying on teachers alone to point the way to relevant works, students often are expected to find the appropriate research on their own. It's part of the school's credo that students learn how to find answers for themselves, how to think, how to learn. "We still have the basic, core things, but the learning environment here encourages students to work independently," says CEO Larry Rosenstock, who in any other school might be called the principal. "The kids here want to think; they want to be able to work independently. We give them a deadline and say, 'Go do it.'"