EDUCATION: A Class of Their Own

Bucking bureaucracy, brashly independent public schools have much to teach about saving education

Ron Helmer's two-car garage isn't much to look at, but the modest structure set amid the cornfields and ranch homes of exurban Freeland, Michigan, harbors a revolution. Inside the garage and spilling over into what was Helmer's living room is the Northlane Math and Science Academy, a new kind of public school. In these unconventional quarters, Helmer, a veteran teacher and school administrator, and two other teachers are attempting to guide 39 students, ages 6 to 12, toward a better understanding of their world via a very active brand of learning.

On a recent day, the youngest children gathered around the...

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