Q: How is Acton DC different?

A: Acton DC is fundamentally different from traditional schools. No bells ring, and there are no lectures. Students are in control of their own learning.

How Acton DC is different:

  • Student-driven, self-paced learning
  • Real-world projects and apprenticeships
  • Multi-age/grade classes
  • Exploration and assessment of interests, aptitudes, personality traits
  • Guides rather than teachers
  • Socratic discussions rather than lectures
  • Mastery learning and student portfolios of achievements rather than grades
  • No homework
  • No teaching to the test

Q: What does a typical day at Acton DC look like?

A: A typical school day includes uninterrupted independent and small-group work, real-world projects starting at the elementary level (starting a business, publishing a book, building wind turbines), and a Socratic discussion to close the day.

Q: Is Acton DC a Montessori school?

A: Acton DC combines the best of Montessori with the best of Acton Academy.

Q: What is expected of me as a parent of an Acton DC student?



A: To ensure that the expectations of parents are clear and that parents are prepared to fulfill these expectations, we require all parents to sign an agreement with Acton DC every semester. As we learn, these agreements will likely be modified, but you can view the current parent contract.

To ensure that Acton DC is meeting parents' and students' expectations, we will conduct parent and student satisfaction surveys weekly.

Q: What do you mean by "every child is a genius"?

A: At Acton DC, we encourage students to adopt a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset.” Those with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is an inborn trait. You’re either a “genius” or you’re not. In contrast, those with a growth mindset believe they can develop their intelligence over time. This can lead to profoundly different behaviors. For instance, children who believe intelligence is fixed often value looking smart above all else, avoid taking risks, and fear failure. Children with a growth mindset view challenging work as an opportunity to grow and view failure as a an opportunity to learn. At Acton DC, we define “genius” as intelligent behaviors in pursuit of personal goals. Every child can be ingenious in overcoming obstacles and solving problems to pursue his or her own path. For more on the growth mindset, see Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck’s article “Even Geniuses Work Hard” or her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.


Q: What do you mean by "every child can change the world"?

A: Every one of our students will find a calling, something they love and are good at. This may be becoming a teacher who sees the light in all children’s eyes and guides them to pursue their dreams, a business person who is guided by compassion and integrity, or an artist or writer who brings beauty to people’s lives. We can’t tell you how your child will change the world. We can only help our students find their calling and set them on their journey.

Q: What do you mean by “lifelong journey”?

A: Acton DC has found the “lifelong journey” to be a helpful metaphor for children to think about their educational adventure. Who am I and where am I going? What makes me special? What gifts do I have? How can I use these gifts to do something great, even change the world? Every journey has twists and turns and requires hard work, even heroic effort, to overcome challenges along the way. Our mission is to help your child discover his or her own unique path.

Q: What is an independent learner?

A: An independent learner is guided by his or her interests and is able to research questions, solve problems, participate in discussions, and strive for mastery.

Q: What is the Socratic method and why does Acton DC use it?

A: In the Socratic method, a teacher serves as a guide, setting up scenarios and asking questions to stimulate critical thinking and independent learning. Acton DC uses the Socratic method rather than lectures because through discussions and actively making arguments to support their beliefs, students gain a better understanding of a topic than by passively taking notes during a lecture.

Q: What grade levels does Acton DC offer?

A: We plan to start by serving first through fourth grades in one class. As students age up, we plan to offer additional grade levels and eventually open Acton DC middle school and high school.

Q: Will students at Acton DC be grouped by grade level?

A: We believe that children learn best when working alongside children younger and older than themselves. The elementary school will be one classroom.

Q: How will my child stay on task in a self-directed environment?

A: A student’s ability to set and track goals in order to evaluate progress is essential to success in a student-driven, individualized learning program. Students need a lot of practice setting specific, measurable goals that are challenging but realistic.

At Acton DC, students set weekly and daily goals, track progress, and establish a rhythm of meeting with peers to hold each other accountable.

Q: How much homework will there be?

A: We believe that children need time to play, relax, and be with family and friends. There will not be any homework assigned.

Q: How does Acton DC track progress without grades?

A: Acton DC tracks progress through student portfolios, learning exhibitions, peer reviews, goal monitoring, and a once-a-year standardized test.

Q: What is mastery learning?

A: In the traditional educational model, a certain amount of class time is devoted to a particular topic or concept; when that time is over, the entire class moves on, despite widely varying degrees of mastery over the material. In contrast, with mastery learning, students proceed at varying rates toward the same level of mastery. The curriculum is not structured in terms of time, but in terms of target levels of comprehension and achievement. Acton DC uses a mastery learning approach to core subjects such as math, reading, and writing. For more on mastery learning, watch “Sal Khan on Digital and Physical Learning” or read “5 Myths about Mastery-Based Learning.”

Q: How do Acton DC students compare on standardized tests?

A: While we dislike standardized tests, all students take the Stanford Achievement Test Series once each year to benchmark their progress in terms comparable to other schools. Students who have been at Acton Academy in Austin through elementary school (and are now in middle school there) are on average 5.7 grade levels above age in reading and 5.6 grade levels above age in math.

Q: Does Acton DC serve special needs children?

A: Unfortunately, we are not equipped to serve children who need specialized attention because of serious learning or behavioral challenges.

Q: What about college prep?

A: If college prep is your primary goal for elementary school, Acton DC is probably not for you. Acton DC’s mission is to help students find their calling. We believe this will prepare your child to succeed at the most elite universities, and if your child’s journey takes him or her to college, we will be supportive. However, if your child chooses an alternative path, we will be equally supportive.

Q: Is Acton DC a religious school?

A: No. Acton DC is not a religious school, though we do expose children to religion in our study of civilization.

Q: What other resources will help me understand Acton DC?

Q: When will Acton DC open?

A: Acton DC will open when there is a critical mass of founding families who are committed to creating a learner-driven community for their children in Washington, DC. We are exploring opening in 2018. Interested families should contact us at info@actondc.org.

A: Check out the Acton Children's Business Fair of Washington, DC. It’s a simple idea. We invite children to start a business, make something they’re passionate about, sell to real customers, and decide for themselves what to do with the profits. Along the way, they learn something about entrepreneurship. More importantly, they learn something about themselves.

The Acton Children’s Business Fair is a one-day example of the ingredients of Acton DC: 

  • The belief that kids are more powerful than we ever imagined. 
  • Respect for the power of independent learning. 
  • A vision of what education is really all about. It’s not just about getting a job, or starting a career. More deeply, it’s about finding a calling. 


Q: What can my children do now? Acton Children's Business Fair of Washington, DC