“Mere precedent is a dangerous source of authority.”

June 9, 2010 •

There is a lot of talk about ‘innovation’ in education, with a lot of varying ideas about what it is. Our view is that serious innovation examines alternatives to the present way of doing things. Innovators look at the roots of problems, question whether present efforts can best address them, and do things completely different if necessary.

It is okay to try new things that are not yet ‘proven’ by documentation and study. In order to get big improvements people have got to move beyond the idea that everything must be ‘evidence-based.’

Evidence-based looks toward the past as the standard for ‘what’s best for students’. That doesn’t leave much room for experimentation—for innovation. Instead it turns our focus to replicating even as the world quickly changes.

And replication, while legitimate, is not really innovation. No doubt Andrew Jackson feared a progress-inhibiting reliance on ‘what’s always been’ when he counseled that, “Mere precedent is a dangerous source of authority.”

City and state-level innovation zones are setting the stage for innovation. Alongside traditional schools, they are providing both the space to innovate, and the human and technical resources needed for support and oversight. It is a strategy known as a ‘split screen.’

Leave a comment, if you will. We’re curious about your view on this definition of innovation, and whether you see it much in current dialogue about education reform.