We have created a complex system of rules and regulation that are woven into every aspect of the education system. From the district’s complex procurement process to the way in which Institutes of Higher Education, including Capella University, seek approval to launch degree granting programs; everything is slow and bureaucratic. While I am not recommending we throw away the entire system, we just simply need to find better ways to support innovation. At the core of this is helping innovators to take down or more around barriers in this complex system so they can do the tough job of testing new ways to solve ongoing problems.
Since 1990, Teach for America (TFA) has taken a different approach to moving around these barriers. They have placed hundreds of high potential individuals with diverse education backgrounds in teaching roles in high need, low income areas. They are, in fact, introducing change agents across the teaching profession. Sounds like a wonderful idea, right? But TFA is continually criticized for not playing by the rules. While they may not have a perfect approach (and, of course, I would argue there is no ONE perfect approach), they support a culture of innovation and are working to change people’s perceptions of what is possible. And a culture of innovation means that every day they continue to evolve their thinking and make changes to their programs. I would argue they are making great progress and moving at a quicker clip than the traditional education system.
The Charter school movement is another great example of change agents coming together to try innovative approaches to tackle critical issues in the education sector. We have seen a tremendous growth in charter schools over decade due to the growing frustration around inequities among schools based on the vast differences in a communities’ social economics status. This situation is not going to go away anytime soon, so I commend these community leaders for having the courage to try something new. What I like about the charter school model is they all have a shared goal of creating a student- centered educational experience committed to ensuring the success of each individual student. They understand the importance of allowing each school, based on the unique dynamics within their community, to have the autonomy to determine the best path towards student achievement. Even though we have not seen consistent results across all charter schools, we are starting to see some schools have a big impact on increasing student achievement. Now is the time to study those schools and see what we can learn from their successes.
I believe positive change can happen when we create a culture of innovation that allows iteration to happen through a supportive ecosystem. This can be a winning model for tackling critical issues. The more we can support our courageous change agents, the sooner we can get on a path towards scalable effectiveness.