We overestimate the ability of leadership to change organizations in more than incremental ways, Joe Graba told a national meeting of foundations in April 2004. The internal culture heavily constrains change. Most change comes through the creation of new organizations.
While almost everyone wants schools to be better, almost nobody wants them to be different. Yet becoming better usually involves changing the service or product. Think about improving travel, communication, computing. Systems need to be open to new models, to innovation. Now, with the states opening K-12 to new schools, innovation becomes increasingly possible.
Clayton Christensen explains how hard it is for existing organizations to change in more than incremental ways, and why significant change requires the creation of new organizations. His research has huge implications for a K-12 strategy that relies on the notion that it will be possible to improve the schools we have.
The discussion about "innovation" in K-12 education is coming on rapidly, as the sense grows that K-12 requires radical change. But there is confusion about concepts and terms. Partly, this is because we are all still learning. This brief paper will try to distinguish the various meanings of "innovation."
System-level reforms like standards, accountability, choice and chartering make it more necessary for schools to succeed with learning. But these reforms do not by themselves affect achievement. Kids learn from what they read, see, hear and do. So success in the effort at improvement requires capitalizing now on the system-level changes with a major effort to create new forms of school.
The assignment to K-12 has changed from "access" to "achievement." Unfortunately, our schools were built to provide students the opportunity to learn, not to ensure that they did. If we insist that our schools do this different job we will have to create new school models that make that possible.
The charge to K-12 has shifted from "access" to "achievement." To meet this challenge, education should be open to new entrants, new authorizers of schools, and new learning programs. This paper argues for teacher-led and other innovations to better serve student needs.
The "Open Sector" is a reality, as new public schools appear outside the traditional district framework. In a few places districts themselves are proactively creating new independent public schools—in competition with the schools they own and directly run. This policy brief rounds up "Open Sector" activity in 17 major urban communities across the country.
Ron Wolk, founder of Education Week, draws on his three decades in school reform to make the case for a "new schools" strategy, focused on individualized instruction instead of an assembly line approach to learning.