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States lag on school innovation

To reform the American education system, states and districts need more flexibility, better accountability, more capacity, and a stronger reform environment, according to a report card released by a coalition of concerned organizations.

The report, "Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Innovation," was issued by members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Center for American Progress, and Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute. It is billed as a call for action in response to how poorly states fared on key indicators of educational innovation.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who gave the keynote address at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual Education and Workforce Summit Nov. 9, agreed that states and districts have the authority to reform education, saluting the researchers for focusing on state performance.

"The authority for reform is at the state level," he said. "And the ability to drive change is at the local level."

The state-by-state report card evaluates educational innovation, which the researchers defined as "the process of leveraging new tools, talent, and management strategies to craft solutions that were not possible in an earlier era."

"Innovation does not mean [promoting] this or that practice," said Hess. "We tend to romanticize best practices in education, but best practices tend to be a function of context. What works well for one organization doesn’t necessarily work well for another organization."

The report is the second in the "Leaders and Laggards" series; the first was released in 2007. The report examined the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in the areas of school management, finance, hiring and evaluation, removing ineffective teachers, data use, pipeline to postsecondary education, and technology. The researchers also hoped to look at state reform environments but found that area had the least available information.

Overall, the states posted mediocre results–and not a single state earned top grades in more than one or two areas, said John Podesta, president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress.

In the technology category, only six states–Louisiana, Maryland, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia–earned a score of "A," while 18 states received a "D" and one state, Nevada, received an "F."

Indicators for this category included the ratio of students per broadband-connected computer, whether the state had a state-run virtual school, whether it offered computer-based assessment, and whether technology competency was a requirement for teacher certification.

States fared slightly better in the data category, with seven states earning an A: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Utah, and Wyoming. But five states–Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and North Dakota–received Ds, and Idaho and D.C. received a failing grade.

Based on their research and analysis, the report’s authors issued a list of recommendations, including these:

• More flexibility: States and districts must empower schools and principals, develop student-based funding policies, and reinvent education management.
• Better accountability: States and districts should hold individuals and organizations responsible for performance, reform teacher pay, and develop stronger state systems for the collection and dissemination of information.
• More capacity: To make schools flexible and innovative, states and districts should provide teachers with focused professional development and encourage the research and development of promising practices.
• Stronger reform environments: States and districts should support efforts to create common academic standards, as well as promote the development of entrepreneurial organizations.


"Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Innovation"

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