Motivating students and personalizing learning are necessary to improve student achievement. But the standards and accountability movement increasingly limits teachers’ ability to motivate and personalize. A preferred approach is to set goals and grant autonomy in exchange for meeting those goals.
Existing schools are unlikely to shift dramatically into this new mode. Years of habit and layers of rules make significant change nearly impossible. The different schools will need to be created new. Chartering is the primary mechanism for new school creation. "Innovation zones" are also emerging inside many districts.
States will then be running two models: the innovative alongside existing schools. Nothing wrong with this; innovation in a context of choice is the way most systems change. Gradually students will move to better schools, and poor performing schools will be closed. History suggests it is unwise to bet on comprehensive, top-down actions transforming large systems.
Creating, maintaining, evolving, and financing an open sector in K-12 is the responsibility of state legislatures. The state does not itself run schools, does not do improvement. The state's role is to cause improvement. Partly it does this by creating proactive charter school authorizers that solicit applications for new and innovative schools. State policy should also be open to broader definitions of achievement and to forms of assessment proposed by schools, or might create such broader assessments.
This section of our site explores the macro structure of the K-12 education system likely to improve student learning.