A $50 Million Competition to Design The Next American High School

Are you ready to design the next American high school? There are competitions for the best voice in the nation, the top model, the best shooter, the best dancer, the top chef, even the top stunt person. Why not a competition to design the best high school in the nation?

If you have ever dreamed of starting a new and better type of school, now is your time. The Super School Project just launched a competition that will result in at least five teams benefitting from a $50 million dollar fund to make their dream school a reality, to build the high school of the future. Go to the site, create the account, build your team, and share your dream.

As they explain on the site, “The Super School Project is an open call to reimagine and design the next American high school.” This competition is predicated upon the assumption that the world has changed, but schools have not adjusted…that we need more than tweaks to the existing system. Now is the time to start from scratch and imagine a school that will help students thrive and survive in the contemporary and emerging world.

In 2013, I wrote about Elliot Washor’s comparison between schooling and Mr. Potato Head. When Mr. Potato Head came out initially in the 1950s, it was a box with pins in it, and you provided the actual vegetable. “Any fruit or vegetable makes a funny face man.” With parents not happy about kids playing with their food, a future version of the toy came with a fake vegetable, eventually a plastic potato. Then there were concerns about choking hazards and the sharp pins, so those were recreated in future version as well. Over time, they even built the toy so that you could no longer put the eyes where the ears belong. It was safer. It didn’t waste food. It also didn’t risk teaching kids poor lessons about anatomy (as if that were a concern?).

Washor explained that the same thing happens with schools. Over time we layer on new policies, practices and procedures; often driven by valid concerns about safety or something else. However, those layers also have a way of slowing down the system, stifling true innovation, and preventing us from fully imagining the many promising possibilities and alternative ways of thinking about education. The Super School Project is an effort to address this problem, sparking the imagination of students, parents, community members, teachers or anyone else who wants to join in the fun. You don’t need a credential or pedigree. You just need a great idea and a compelling proposal. The best ideas win.

Benefits Beyond the Prize

While there are many philanthropic efforts in education today (and even more critics of those efforts), I’ve been intrigued by and pleased with this growing idea of creating competitions that are about more than just prize money.

  • They the existing fires of innovation in a given area of need.
  • They create energy and community around that need.
  • They draw broader attention to the issue.
  • They allow the community of participants to individually and collectively grow in their knowledge and understanding of the key issues.
  • Even those who don’t “win” the competition help push the field forward.
  • Those who don’t “win” also sometimes get alternate funding or find other ways to bring their dream to reality.

One of Many Prizes

While the Super School Project is a philanthropic effort of Laurene Powell Jobs through the Emerson Collective, it is one of many such emerging efforts, leveraging the power of competition to spark great ideas for a collective good. Other similar competitions are part of the XPrize, an online platform for hosting a variety of competitions that share traits like “a bold and audacious goal”, an unmet need or failure, a defined problem, a grand but achievable task, and something that provides “vision and hope.” At the time of this article, XPrize was running two education projects, the Adult Literacy Xprize (a $7 million competition) and the Global Learning XPrize (a $15 million competition). These are wonderfully creative ways to generate widespread and grassroots innovation around in the education space.

Now is Your Time

  • You can spend your evenings watching and cheering on the next top model or the best dancer in the nation.
  • Another option is to get involved, sign up for one of these competitions and join in the movement to solve some of the greatest problems in society or pursuing some of the most exciting opportunities.
  • Alternatively, why not start your own competition focused upon addressing a need or opportunity in education that resonates with you? It doesn’t need to be $50 million.
  • It doesn’t even need to be national or world-wide. Make it local.
  • You can fund it yourself or invite a group of others to pool resources and make it happen.

Let the games begin!