EL Education

EL Education, formally known as Expeditionary Learning, is a design and program for school improvement that builds on the educational ideas and insights of Kurt Hahn, Outward Bound’s founder, Outward Bound’s 60-year history and craft wisdom, and the ideas and examples of other educational thinkers and leaders from John Dewey to Paul Ylvisaker, Harold Howe, Ted Sizer, Eleanor Duckworth, Howard Gardner, Debbie Meier and Tom James. Expeditionary Learning is applying values and vision and pedagogy from these sources to the business of creating and developing good schools and breathing life into curriculum and instruction. It partners with individual schools and their districts–and with charter schools–primarily in cites and rural communities where good schools are most needed and where good schools have not been the norm.

To fuel improvement and help its partner schools realize the principles and core practices of its design, Expeditionary Learning provides a coherent and pertinent program of professional development and technical assistance that is tailored to the situation of each school.

People are sometimes surprised to learn that Outward Bound, an organization and program that takes people into the wilderness for transformational experiences, is working at the business of school improvement and professional development for teachers. But in fact, Outward Bound first took shape as an educational innovation arising from a secondary school that was itself an effort at school reform. Outward Bound was the ” short course, ” a month of compressed experiences of the kind that students at Salem (Kurt Hahn’s first school, in Germany) and Gordonstoun (his second school, in Scotland) had on a year-round basis.

Kurt Hahn founded the Salem Shule in Germany, Gordonstoun School in Scotland, the Atlantic Colleges (and through them the International Baccalaureate), the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, and Outward Bound. A common set of educational ideas motivated all these schools and programs, which were established in the 1930s, 1940s, and the 1950s, and continue to be active and influential today.

Private school leaders brought Outward Bound to the United States in 1962. Outward Bound did a great deal of outreach to public and private schools throughout the 1960s and 1970s and helped create and support dozens of other organizations that use adventure, service, and other forms of direct and engaging experience to teach and motivate people. Project Adventure, which builds ropes courses in gyms and helps improve public and private school physical education and counseling programs, is one example. The Outward Bound-like courses that many colleges and universities run for incoming freshmen to provide them with a bonding and motivating experience are another.

Outward Bound established urban centers in New York, Boston, Atlanta, and Baltimore in the 1980s. They grew out of a particular interest in making Outward Bound available to urban youth and related outreach efforts in the 70s and 80s aiming at better recruitment, preparation and follow-up with urban youth going on Outward Bound courses in the wilderness. Some of the urban centers developed effective programs in public schools, bringing the teaching technology of Outward Bound, as well as the spirit of adventure and service, to schools and other urban institutions. In the late 1980’s, Outward Bound developed a joint project with the Harvard Graduate School of Education with the objectives of bringing a more experiential dimension to the Harvard Education School curriculum and more academic rigor into Outward Bound’s work with schools. In the 1990s Outward Bound began a national urban education initiative to build on this work and to identify, develop, and replicate its most effective models of urban and school-based programming.

Outward Bound’s urban/education initiative began to focus on whole-school improvement and the professional development of teachers when, in 1992, Outward Bound’s Expeditionary Learning proposal was selected by the New American Schools Development Corporation (NASDC) for potential five-year support. NASDC’s grants and other support enabled Outward Bound to develop and test the Expeditionary Learning design and then, once it appeared to be successful, to scale up its application to more schools. NASDC, later changed to New American Schools (NAS) also helped Expeditionary Learning move from reliance on philanthropy for financial support to fee for service, paid by the schools and districts involved. Expeditionary Learning started with 10 demonstration schools in five cities: New York, Boston, Portland, ME, Denver and Dubuque in the 1993-94 school year. Nine of the first ten schools are still active partner schools in our national network, and are in their 12th year of implementing the design. As Outward Bound aims at personal transformation, Expeditionary Learning aims at the transformation of whole schools. Both work at challenging and helping people do more than they would have thought possible. Both view learning as an act of discovery, and experience as the most potent teacher. They are based on certain ideas about what is important for a person to learn and practice as a foundation for academic success and success in life, such things as enterprise. resilience, curiosity, tenacity, self-discipline, teamwork and compassion.

As of the Fall of 2014, EL is working with 164 schools throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.  Some of these schools are charter schools, but majority of the schools that EL partners with are public schools. River Bluff is the only EL high school in the state of South Carolina. One hundred twelve of them are in low-income urban and rural communities and have a high percentage of students that qualify for the federal free and reduced-cost lunch program. All together there are almost 60,000 students and 6,000 teachers in Expeditionary Learning schools today.

Expeditionary Learning’s work has been evaluated and commended in several third party research studies that cite such outcomes as improved teacher practice, higher student achievement and engagement and a positive and productive school culture. In 1998, EL was used, along with other NASDC-supported designs, as a model for the comprehensive school reform legislation (CSR) passed that year by Congress. In 2003 Expeditionary Learning was awarded a five-year grant of $12.6 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create 20 new, small, college preparatory high schools: eight in New York City and 12 in other parts of the country. Expeditionary Learning has its headquarters in Garrison, New York, where Outward Bound USA also has its headquarters, and delivers its program to schools through regional offices in New York City, New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, the Midwest, the Northwest, the Southwest and Puerto Rico.

In October 2015, EL Education branded itself under this name after spending over 20 years as Expeditionary Learning.

Please click here to learn more about EL Education.

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