Is This What High School Should Look Like?

In a post this past week on Fred Wilson’s wonderful site – AVC.com – he wrote about his venture capital firm’s latest educational investment, Sora Schools.

I spent some time reading about the school, and it sounds marvelous.

Here is some information from the school web site:

Sora is a live, virtual high school where students work with teachers and counselors to create their own curriculum for every subject which includes individualized projects, ambitious challenges, and cutting-edge software to teach the core subjects of Math, Science, English, and History. Students at Sora are given the responsibility and agency to control their education based on what they’re interested in and even the direction of the school program itself. Sora follows an Oxford-like model where teachers serve to challenge students, structure individual curriculum plans, facilitate their learning, and help them complete their goals, not deliver boring lectures. Sora gives students autonomy and voice in their learning, resulting in more engagement and better academic outcomes. 

At Sora, projects and live workshops held by the teachers encourage students to dive deep into subjects and develop lasting knowledge. However, it is also important for students to first understand the foundational concepts–for that, Sora creates and curates online videos, books, articles, and adaptive practice for students to gain confidence before putting their skills to work. Additionally, students have quick access to teachers and TAs if they ever get stuck.

The curriculum includes not only the required high school subject areas, but also important financial literacy skills, ethics, design thinking, and soft skills such as time management and professional communication.

Sora helps its students make a better, more informed choice about their next career step–be it college, a job, research, grad-school, or anything else they choose. 

Sora is intentional about putting student interests first and using those interests to create projects for students to learn real skills. They explore what interests them first–once they’ve narrowed down a few areas they want to dive deep into, Sora works with them to increase their understanding of the subjects and build portfolios of projects and work.

Sora is a project-based learning environment where students can start their own projects, choose their own timeline, and set their own evaluation metrics. Sora follows an Oxford-like model, where learning experts serve as topical experts and collaborate with students on their projects. Several studies have shown that immersive active-learning instructional methods like project-based learning through projects are much more effective than traditional instruction.

The student community is an integral part of the Sora experience. Not only do students actively participate in clubs, workshops, and related events, but students also contribute to each other’s learning academically. Peer-to-peer accountability is a key aspect of their education, and students consistently enrich the education of other students through their presentations at Friday Showcase and group learning sessions. Students meet constantly throughout the week, academically and socially, allowing them to build strong bonds and lifelong friendships.

Students at Sora also participate in the development and growth of the entire program through Roadmap Club, a weekly open forum where students voice their perspectives on areas of improvement and provide feedback on initiatives.

This sounds like a wonderful learning experience, one which enables students to not only master the basics, but also to explore in-depth their personal interests.

Here is a video that gives an overview of Sora:

And here’s a video that gives a brief look at the basics of project-based learning:

High school is such a critical age for students, and it seems as if traditional high schools turn many students away from education, often for good. For those students, Sora seems to be the ideal solution.

I hope it turns out to be a good investment for Fred’s venture capital firm, and more importantly, I hope Sora turns out be the right choice for those students who enroll.

*image from Sora Schools

32 thoughts on “Is This What High School Should Look Like?

  1. I hated school. It was like prison to me. So I think I would have liked something like SORA when I was a kid. I know I would have liked the coronavirus, and getting out of having to go to school. I would have just educated myself, which I think is the best education.

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  2. To my non-educator eye Sora looks like it would be great — for the right kind of student. It seems that students would need to be highly motivated across a wide range of subjects. I’m not sure I would have faired well. Model rocketry would be a blast. 😄 Are sports included?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This method looks like a pretty sound approach. Most students will love the fact that they have a much bigger say about what they want to learn. I don’t think it would work with everyone, but many kids who are independent and driven would likely thrive.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These types of schools definitely suit some scholars very well, Jim. My son, Gregory, would thrive in this sort of an environment. He excelled during the home schooling period. Michael, on the other hand, needs a physical teaching environment.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As an educator, you know that students learn in many different ways. Although traditional teaching methods work for the majority of students, it does leave some struggling to keep pace or coasting with great ease. This seems like a great way for those students to find their own path. I like the idea that the courses are geared to challenge the student at an individual level. This insures that we are helping the students to excel rather than to just meet a standard of learning. Great post Jim with tons of information I did not know previously.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. the school does have an interesting approach to assessment, and they do convert their assessment to a transcript that colleges could then evaluate. The students are also required to take the SAT/ACT their junior year. It looks like the program was created in conjunction with Georgia Institute of Technology…

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  6. this sounds like a wonderful educational initiative/alternative. some children would utterly thrive in this learning environment, and others may falter, but it offers such a great option for those who may be looking for another way to learn and to carry the lessons with them.

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  7. This sounds like a great project. My school days were less than stellar and I think that I would have benefitted from this type of environment. I only started excelling when I went to university where I had more autonomy, agency, and choice. There are several comments above stating that this may work for some and not for others; is it any different from the current system? It works for some and not for others, and more importantly, it helps many more to leave school in a mediocre state, or if you want to phrase it a little nicer: many student do the work that is required of them, get the necessary grades, and move on uninspired. My point is that having another system that doesn’t work for everyone, can still be better overall if you have some measurable outcome. If you leave initiatives such as this as “alternatives” only you are running the risk of diverting only the “special” kids to it and leaving the rest with the good old system. Not every school can go full SORA, but every school can adopt many of the principles and strategies. Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. wonderful insights as always. And yes, schools like this should be an option for all students, and not just those who might struggle in a traditional approach. I would have gladly sent my kids to such a school if it is something they expressed interest in.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. In theory, it sounds ideal. In practice, I wonder, how a student’s personality and learning style are taken into account. I still think personal psychology needs to play a larger part in our entire lives for a better understanding of the self at any stage of life.

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  9. While this looks like a great initiative, it saddens me that our public schools are failing us. If education for all was truly valued in The US, schools would be fully funded, fully staffed, and given the time, creativity, and resources described above. 🕊

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Where’s the independent, peer-reviewed research on this? What kind of credentials do those teachers have?

    Most students need professionally prepared teachers and guidance. I heard once from a student who was lost and learned very little from High Tech High, a similar school.

    Public schools used to create alternative schools to help students who learned differently, and as we’re seeing with the pandemic, virtual is not well-received by most students and families.

    If public schools are failing, and I’d argue that many are not, it is due to the lack of American investment in poor schools. Digital learning is a supplementary tool. There’s little research to indicate that it is better than brick-and-mortar schools.

    There’s also been a huge push to end democratic public education for privatization. Ask yourself it is worth giving up on the public schools that are open to all children, a truly American institution.

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    1. Hi Nancy. You raise lots of valid points. It seemed like it was developed with help from the Georgia Institute of Technology, so hopefully, they made sure there was some academic rigor to the program. And I am a big fan of public education, and there is no doubt we need to invest more in those schools, from the teachers to the technology. But I also think there is room for schools like this one, as you point out, alternative schools have been in place for students who learn differently.

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