“I’m convinced the answers are out there,” he said. “If we can just take to scale what we know is working, millions more children would benefit.”

In a separate panel discussion later in the day, John Katzman, chief executive officer of 2tor Inc., took issue with the idea of finding what works and replicating it everywhere.

“We don’t do that in any other sector,” he said. “We think in terms of, let’s create a system that evolves.”

Marguerite Kling, a social studies teacher at Nature Coast Technical High School in Brooksville, Fla., revealed how her students define innovation in education: as student-centered learning. One of Kling’s former students said the way she was taught in most of her high school classes “did not adequately prepare me for college,” because she never learned how to take ownership of her own learning.

Paul Pastorek, superintendent of education for the state of Louisiana, said policy makers often think of school innovation in terms of classrooms, when they should be thinking in terms of entire systems.

Too often, he said, systems get in the way of school innovation. He explained that administrators from many of the top-achieving high-poverty schools in his state have told him their key to success is that they “fly under the radar”—that is, they don’t listen to what the district says and do their own thing instead.

Katzman agreed that school districts weren’t designed to be innovative; they have too many competing factions, all with different agendas. The challenge, he said, is: “How do you subvert the school district model in sort of subtle ways” to foster innovation in education?

Jean Desravines, incoming CEO of New Leaders for New Schools, said policy makers need to create incentives for entire systems to change, such as what the federal Race to the Top grant program has done for states.

Pastorek said he often hears from many school leaders that they don’t have time to be innovative, because they’re too busy focusing on getting students to pass high-stakes tests.

“I do think testing can stifle innovation in the classroom,” he said, if it’s approached from a position of fear. But if teachers and school leaders focus on rigorous teaching, and on using data to help them improve, then “the testing should take care of itself.”

(With additional reporting from Editor Dennis Pierce)