I met Dennis Littky about ten years ago, when he and I were both part of the same national organization. Even then, I knew that he and his school partner Elliot Washor were doing something new. And I ran into Dennis again a couple of days ago, and recognized again that he has a gift for being unconstrained. Have a look at the video here ; the whole thing is great, but the story that starts at about a minute twenty is at the heart of Dennis' thinking.
It's really easy to do good work with students. You pay attention to them as individuals, you respect their ideas, and you give them something engaging to do. That's about as much of a recipe as you need. The problem is that we've devised education to do none of those three things. Instead, we pay more attention to the curriculum than the students; we treat students as uninformed and in need of our expertise; and we give them homework that we've created on a schedule that we build for ends that we've decided on. You couldn't intentionally build a more counterproductive system.