What’s Possible When Kids Are Challenged in School? Ask the Kids.

David Rivera is a first grader in Sparks, Nevada. He’s a charming kid, chatty and forthcoming. Crouch down by his table in Connie Hall’s classroom at Diedrichsen Elementary School, and David will tell you about the detailed drawing of 11 dogs he’s created to solve a multi-step addition problem. He likes being challenged in school, and he’s always game to try something new.

It wasn’t always like that for David. His mother, Trina Rivera, explains that the transition from kindergarten was hard for him. “It’s too much learning,” he’d tell her at the end of the day.

Ms. Rivera, like most parents in this country, wants her son to get a college degree one day. And she wants him to have a different experience than she had as a student. After struggling for years in school and not receiving the support she needed, she says, “I didn’t want to go anymore because I felt so far behind.”

Fortunately, as far as Ms. Rivera is concerned, her son’s school experience has been transformed in Mrs. Hall’s classroom. He’s become a sponge for knowledge, his mom says. Now, he’s teaching Ms. Rivera how to solve math problems that look completely different from the math she learned. “I had a really hard time in school,” she says. “It makes me really happy that David’s not going to have a hard time like I did. I want him to go as far as he can.”

Today, we want to introduce you to David, his classmates, and students in four other classrooms across the country. You’ll meet them in Room to Run, our first multimedia feature, now live on our website. (Go ahead, give it a click.)

With Room to Run, we sought to answer the question: What’s possible when kids have access to schoolwork that challenges and inspires them? And who better to answer that question than kids themselves? So we went into five classrooms and asked. They responded loud and clear.

This is an experiment in storytelling for us. After all, we love data at TNTP. But the data is telling us that too many kids are missing out on the opportunity to stretch to their full potential in school—even in places that are working hard to adopt higher learning standards for students.

TNTP’s quality reviews, in which we’ve partnered with school districts to assess the rigor of thousands of classroom assignments, show that just four in 10 assignments are challenging enough to prepare kids for college. And far too many students find themselves in remedial courses when they get there—40 percent of all students and 60 percent of African-American and Latino students end up spending thousands of extra dollars on college remediation. Many of them never graduate with a degree to show for it. We’re breaking our promise to kids and their families when we allow them to graduate from high school without adequately preparing them for college-level work. It’s unacceptable.

For the past few years, we’ve been mired in a debate over the Common Core standards, one riddled with misconceptions and politics. The tragedy of this is that the very real challenge and worthwhile goal that inspired higher learning standards has gotten lost. This is about honoring the goals and aspirations of real kids in real classrooms who, all too often, are not being asked to do the work that will prepare them to succeed. There are those who assume that kids who face a lot of challenges at home can’t meet high expectations or benefit from challenging classroom work. We’re fortunate to work with thousands of educators across the country who know that this is a false assumption. And we know the people who can best testify to their ability to rise to high expectations are students themselves.

So we asked ourselves: What if we started not with policy or data, but with the kids? Let’s hear from them about why high expectations and challenging classwork matter so much. Enter Room to Run.

We think you’ll enjoy meeting David and the other students in these classrooms (not to mention their inspiring teachers and dedicated parents). And if you do, we hope you’ll share their stories with anyone you know who cares about kids. If we want to raise the bar for all students, we have to understand just why doing so matters, and what it looks like when it’s done well. These kids will tell you.

Explore Room to Run

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

Learn More About TNTP