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The Split Screen Strategy: Innovation + Improvement

A new book by E|E's Ted Kolderie, June 2014

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It should be obvious, Ted Kolderie writes in his new book, that education policy is stuck in a faulty theory of action; trying to drive change into an inert system rather than working to change what makes K-12 an inert system.

Over thirty years after A Nation At Risk America still struggles to agree on how to engineer a comprehensive transformation of the K-12 system. But the inability to agree is not the problem. The insistence on finding consensus is itself the problem.

"I know this challenges the key premises of conventional education policy," Ted says. But the endless argument about 'right way' and 'wrong way' is unproductive. The best way is to run parallel efforts at improvement and at innovation.

This would have education changing the way successful systems change: opening to innovation . . . letting people–-teachers, especially–-try things in the effort to reach the goals of higher achievement, personalization, quality teaching.

Innovation is hard for the district sector of K-12. Boards and superintendents feel powerful pressures for sameness; fear the risk of failure. And the chartered sector, meant to enable innovation, is now pushing conventional schools, 'real school', that generate high scores. (The story of what happened in chartering is told here, perhaps for the first time.)

With the 'split screen' strategy, though, there can be innovation. Those who want the new-and-different may have that. Those who prefer the traditional may stay with that. We stop arguing about 'right way' and 'wrong way' for everyone. Over time what works will spread.

Confining strategy to improvement-within-the-givens would be a risk: not a necessary risk, since we could at the same time be innovating, so not an acceptable risk to be taking with the country's future and with other people's children.

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