I made a few possibly provocative observations and suggestions about the ‘How’ of innovation when talking in Nashville February 6 to the heads of the state charter-school associations and support organizations.
In brief, what I said was:
- Today’s education strategy tries to meet the nation’s goals within the givens of traditional school, on the theory that adding ‘accountability’ (standards, measurement and consequences) is enough. This one-bet strategy is a risk: not a prudent risk and not an acceptable risk. Almost certainly education needs to be reinvented; as with digital electronics it now can be. So it is essential for the strategy to include an element of innovation.
- Chartering, intended partly to serve as an R&D sector, has now turned to promoting traditional school. Its current leadership is committed to a one-dimensional notion of achievement that disregards and disrespects student and school accomplishments other than academic; language and math.
- But everywhere the concept of quality is multi-dimensional: Think about places you know, things you know, people you know. And judgments about quality are made ‘on balance’. Judgments about the success of students and of school, too, are properly multi-dimensional and made ‘on balance’.
- To bring innovation into education state policymakers should step outside the ‘One Best Way’ discussion that has dominated education policy; should arrange for education to change the way successful systems change. This means adopting a ‘split screen’ strategy; opening to new models through innovation while continuing to improve the existing model. States should encourage districts, schools and teachers specifically to depart from the key givens of traditional school: (a) from age-grading, (b) from the notion that learning is ‘delivered’ through instruction, (c) from the one-dimensional concept of achievement, (d) from the notion of the school building as the only site for learning, (e) from the boss-worker model of school organization and (f) from K and 12, ages 5 and 18, as the boundaries of the system.
- The national government role has been misconceived. It should be to support the states’ new strategy. Our national government does not run the schools. It has other pressing tasks that are its direct responsibility. It is time to be practical. Washington needs to delegate the job of reinventing education.