Here's a link to the school website and to Mr. Esquith's website. Jay Mathews of the Washington Post wrote about him and here's what he said:
"I think he is the most effective, energetic and creative working classroom teacher in the country. Other great teachers have come close to his level and won some of the same awards. But they have left their classrooms to write books that become movies, or testify before Congress, or teach at better-paying universities or start new school organizations."
Mr. Mathews explains it better than I could so here's what happens in Mr. Esquith's classroom:
Every year Esquith and his 10-year-olds, most from low-income Hispanic and Korean families, produce, rehearse and perform a Shakespearean drama, with rock music and modern jokes thrown in. They read books way above their grade level. They operate a working classroom economy, with salaries, rents and other financial intricacies. They study what they will be seeing in trips that take them all over the world (paid for by Esquith and generous supporters).
From Mr. Esquith's website:
"Year after year, The Hobart Shakespeareans excel. They read passionately, far above their grade level; tackle algebra, and stage Shakespeare so professionally that they often wow the great Shakespearean actor himself, Sir Ian McKellen.
Yet this takes place in Room 56, at a large urban public elementary school. All of the children at Hobart Elementary School qualify for free breakfast and lunch, and few speak English as a first language. Many are from poor or troubled families.
What's the winning recipe? A diet of intensive learning mixed with a lot of kindness and fun. These children come to school at 6:30 a.m. and often stay until it is dark. They come during vacation. They take field trips all over the world. They play rock and roll music. Mediocrity has no place in their classroom. And the results follow them for life, as they go on to outstanding colleges.
It is not easy, but these children dare to defy society's expectations. These kids are hungry, and they want out. They work their way out. After all, there are no shortcuts."
He opens the doors early and kids come. He stays late and they stay. (Frankly, I wonder how he has a home life at all.)
He breaks the book up in chapter devoted to subject matter; LA, math, etc. I'm not sure I agree with some of his book or film choices for 5th graders but he does choose challenging material. No Shrek for this class. And the kids eat it up. (I can't imagine the machinations parents must engage in to get in his class.)
There are two things he has special distain for and those would be low expectations and academic coaches. It seems like his district brings these people in and I think he largely ignores them. (I've heard the same from some teachers about the coaches here but according to staff at the Curriculum committee meeting, they've hired two more math coaches.)
From the book:
"The objectives [reading] always focus on fluency, comprehension, and other necessary but deadly dull goals. I have never seen district reading objectives in which the words joy, passion or excitement top the list. I think they should."
Agreed. Show kids the exciting and interesting worlds in books and they will want to keep reading and will gain all the objectives any district could want.
He talks about using trust in a classroom to replace fear, wanting to please and rewards to help children to become able learners.
I present this for two reasons. One, it's one teacher in one classroom succeeding beyond all expectations. I know he gets many donations now that really help his class but he sure didn't for a long time. How he teaches works and has worked for decades. Naturally, it didn't all come overnight and he blushes at some of his early errors.
Two, why isn't this duplicated? He tells the most low-cost ways to do what he does. He talks about writing grants for some materials. It can be done but I'll bet if you asked any superintendent about duplicating it, they'd come up with a million reasons why not. And, it's probably not duplicated in every classroom at Hobart either.
What is missing is his relationship with the students' parents and what influence that is. But he has a new book out, “Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World” that I might have to read.