2012 Highlights: A viral video, a book release, and an innovative strategy

December 31, 2012 • Dan Loritz

We at Education Evolving try to spend most of our time looking forward. But as this year comes to an end, we want to take a moment to look back on our work in 2012. Below are a few highlights.

Legislation on individualized learning

Earlier this year, the Minnesota legislature passed Education Evolving’s legislation to permit districts to give their schools the authority to individualize learning. On May 1 Governor Mark Dayton signed the education omnibus bill, a provision of which allows district schools to request to be designated as “innovation schools” by their districts.

The legislation encourages such schools to individualize learning by motivating students and teachers, expanding the use of technology, varying the pace of instruction, and more. We believe individualization is vital to improving learning because different students have different interests, aptitudes, and learning styles. Schools should be free to adapt to the differences in students known intuitively to all parents and teachers.

“A Split Screen Strategy”

Elementary teacher Ananth Pai is an exemplar of innovative teaching and was a star testifier for the individualized learning bill (above). He was also the subject of A Split Screen Strategy, our policy short film about teachers’ role with innovation in school. The video takes us inside Mr. Pai’s classroom and explains how his innovative teaching methods help to close the achievement gap among his students. To us, the video isn’t about Mr. Pai’s specific methods as much as it is about the need to foster innovation in the K-12 system, and the potential role of teachers in leading change.

What can we learn from Finland?

Finland’s educational success has been hailed around the world. Education Evolving has wondered why and how Finland’s experiences should inform U.S. education policy. This year, we learned a lot from Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish education official and the leading “explainer” of the Finnish school system abroad. Education Evolving brought Sahlberg to Minnesota twice this year to meet with a broad array of state and national leaders.

Education Evolving senior associate Ted Kolderie was part of a 40-member American delegation spent a week in Helsinki, Finland in late August. Many on that trip came away feeling that the key in Finland has to do with trusting and empowering teachers.

Our newest book: Trusting Teachers

Our associates Kim Farris-Berg and Edward Dirkswager co-authored an important book about teacher autonomy that has enjoyed great praise among K-12 policy thinkers. Released on October 16, Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots, examines the experiences of teachers who are already trusted to “call the shots,” and reveals what happens in schools where teachers have the autonomy not just to make classroom decisions, but to collectively – with their colleagues – make the decisions that influence the entire school.

Introducing a new strategy for K-12 education

Ted Kolderie has been thinking about and writing two major papers. The first paper, Where National Education Policy Goes Next – To Succeed, was released on December 12. It explains why the current strategy cannot reach the nation’s goals, and offers a radically different but practical alternative: open K-12 to innovation; arrange for education to change the way successful systems change. We’ve received encouraging comments from distinguished readers, such as blogger Tom Vander Ark.

Ted’s second paper, to be released early 2013, will explain how and why chartering lost its initial focus on innovation and how to organize the innovation side of the “split screen” strategy.