As waves of the Global Educational Reform Movement, what Sahlberg (2015) identifies as GERM, still ripple around the world pushing for competition, standardization, the focus on the core subjects, and test-based accountability some schools like IDEAS choose what Hargreaves and Shirley (2012) call The Forth Way towards inspiration and innovation with their project-based learning pedagogy. IDEAS is a small public high school in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and a member of Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools (CES). Our qualitative inquiry explores the implications of project-based learning on IDEAS’ students, teachers, academic program and school community. Data came from direct observation, interviews, curriculum documents, and teaching and learning artifacts. Our research informs IDEAS about the impact of their project-based learning pedagogy and validates its significance as part of their curricular program. It demonstrates that democratic principles are at work in some US schools, despite so many instances to the contrary. In the age of GERM this single-case study provides research-based evidence that alternative pedagogical methods and curriculum programs are potentially viable alternatives to many of the curriculum practices commonly found in today’s schools.


Coalition of Essential Schools, Project-Based Learning, Qualitative Research, Pedagogical Reform

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Jim La Prad is a Professor at Western Illinois University teaching courses in the social foundations of education from philosophical, historical, legal, and socio-cultural perspectives to teacher candidates, in-service teachers, and educational leaders. His research, scholarship and practice include critical pedagogy in teaching and learning environments, experiential education, educational ethics, multicultural education, transformative educational leadership and P-12 educational reform. He is a former high school and middle school teacher, Outward Bound instructor and big brother with Big Brothers and Big Sisters. He is currently serving as a board member for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Warren and McDonough Counties and the Macomb CUSD #185 Board of Education. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to jg-laprad@wiu.edu.

Dr. Andrea Hyde is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Studies, teaching courses in social and multicultural foundations of education and education policy and law for Western’s teacher education program. She also teaches graduate level courses in social theory, philosophy of education and qualitative research and directs master’s theses and serves on doctoral dissertation committees for the department’s MSEd and EdD programs. She studies school-based yoga curriculum and teacher training programs, and relate this work to critical pedagogy and social justice education. Her policy and curriculum work involves mind-body practices in teacher education and professional development and she provides mindful movement workshops to educators at all levels. She is also interested in mindfulness pedagogy for post-secondary education, with connections to philosophy of education and critical social theories.

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