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November 16th, 2012
How the government can drive school innovation
The opportunity to transform the nation’s education system from its factory-model roots to a student-centric version has never been greater.
Online education is growing rapidly in full-time virtual schools, and even more so in blended-learning environments. This is the future of our education system. Now, America must embrace this change to create alternative learning models that maximize every student’s learning potential and improve the outlook of the country’s global competitiveness.
Although this critical issue is a national challenge and opportunity, it does not mean the best way to drive innovative change in education is through the federal government. Most of the funding and decision-making around education in this country occur at the state and local levels. The federal government has limited ability to effect change. That said, what the federal government can do is create the conditions for the type of changes to emerge that put the focus on each individual student.
To create lasting change, the federal government must clean up restrictive regulations on schools and school districts—such as the “supplement, not supplant,” regulation that comes with Title I funds—and focus more on legislation that encourages student growth and outcomes.
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Dictating the specific programs that schools implement and limiting how school leaders and teachers operate impairs schools from best serving students’ needs. The government can assist by helping to define common goals for the education system, but then it should entrust the teachers and leaders on the ground to match the circumstances of each student with the available resources to help achieve the greatest outcomes possible. By giving teachers this trust, schools are encouraged to innovate, which would allow organic change to happen.
Race to the Top (RTTT) has proved to be an interesting model to incentivize states to take concrete actions that they might not otherwise have taken. Although it is easy to use the model to micromanage how schools operate, which is a mistake, RTTT shows the power of incentives to help states create the conditions on the ground for innovation in education.
Leveraging this power to help states move beyond policies that dictate student-to-teacher ratios, teacher-certification requirements, and rules governing seat time would be a big step forward. With this done, the following measures should be taken:
Promote individual student growth as the measure of performance. The government should support teachers by moving away from the No Child Left Behind/Adequate Yearly Progress school site accountability model. Eliminating this measurement and replacing it with one that is focused on growth for each student will do a better job of creating transparency around how our schools are actually doing and will give credit to educators helping a student make meaningful progress regardless of where she started.