Byron's Babbles

Leading Innovation in Education

img_1768Being involved as a school leader of a network of schools offering fully virtual enrollment, as well as blended learning centers, I have experienced both the joys and challenges of being involved in innovation. Keep in mind online learning is very much still in the pioneer stage of development. Through this experience I have learned first hand the push back from individuals, organizations, and policymakers who will not even accept trying innovating in the space of online education and school choice. The same holds true for many other innovations in education as well. This makes it extremely hard at times to reach consensus for having education policy, accountability systems, and funding meet reality.

Some of the push back I refer to is well founded. When you think that we have been educating our children in much the same way for two centuries, it is natural for there to be some resistance to change. Interesting to me, however, is that an analysis of data from all the traditional means by which we deliver education to our children suggest we should be pushing back on some of those means as well. By their very nature, innovations are new and untested. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect that all innovations become immediate success stories and be evidence-based. At the same time, the education field has a long history of promoting the latest fads and “flavors of the month” that turned out to be, at the least, ineffectual, and at the worst, have children falling further behind. I am certainly not suggesting we contribute to this unintended consequence either. Sometimes, though, I worry that we have not given some very effective and innovative ideas enough time to see if learning gains will be experienced.

In the world of education, innovation comes in many other forms than just the online world. There are innovations in the way education systems are organized and managed, exemplified by charter schools or turnaround academies being managed by education management organizations (EMO). There are innovations in instructional techniques or other delivery systems. We need ongoing innovation in the area of customizing learning for every student. This is very important in serving every student. There are innovations in the way teachers are recruited, prepared, and compensated. I have had the opportunity to work with Teach for America teachers and would put them up against any teacher preparation program. The training and disposition of these teachers to work with struggling urban students who are behind on both skill and grade level is outstanding.

We must continue to encourage creativity and innovation in addressing our most important challenges in education. I believe we need more opportunities for innovations to pass through a peer review process focused on the project’s design. This would provide an opportunity for vetting of the ability of the innovation to be brought to scale and be duplicated. Schools and other innovators of learning must place rigorous, experimental evaluation designs in place so that, over time, we can learn if practices are effective.

Additionally, we need to continue to think about how to accelerate innovation time and evaluation of the effectiveness of those innovations. I believe collaboration is the key here. Innovations are best designed when they are a direct result of a need in a specific school context. We need to make sure our teachers and staff have the necessary time and resources to reflect and be creative in developing customized solutions for the students he or she serve. Finally, we need to continue to develop robust networks for sharing innovations and best practices.

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