Kolderie Talk to Knowledge Alliance

Speech • August 2010 • By Ted Kolderie

Learning Needs to Improve. OK. How?

The following is a summary of Ted Kolderie’s remarks. A longer, PDF version is also available.

Predictably, most efforts at reform try to improve the existing; traditional school. And want to replicate what seems to work better. That’s good.

What’s not good is when people decide improvement is all that’s needed; become hostile to real innovation; to efforts to step outside traditional school. Nobody can be sure that ‘improvement’ alone will do the job for the 40 per cent of students who have never learned well in traditional school. To bet all the chips on improvement-alone would be an unacceptable risk.

Policy needs to open a sector of K-12 in which schools can invent new kinds of ‘school’; of learning. Innovation is a search. No one can predict, ahead, what they’ll come up with. But clearly developments in digital electronics offer huge potential to adapt ‘school’ in ways that will maximize student motivation — and performance.

Real innovations are always primitive at the start. Think about the first airplane, the first automobile, the first computer, the first cellphone. So innovation must be followed by improvement. Think of the strategy as a ‘split screen’, with innovation and improvement running simultaneously.

The innovating schools must be free to try things. In the schools the key will be the teachers; practitioners innovating. Schools — now controlled from the outside — must be freed to try new forms of organizations; to break out of the course-and-class model and personalize learning, and to redefine objectives to reflect student interests. (E|E explains this further in Innovation-based Systemic Reform.)

Opening to real innovation will challenge the K-12 system, risk-averse as it is. But if policy doesn’t open to real innovation, the institution of school is likely to find itself bypassed. National needs, student interests and the potential in new technology will find other ways, outside school, for students to learn and for their performance to be assessed and validated.