Badges? Do we need badges?

“Digital badges” certifying skills and knowledge to prospective employers could loosen colleges and universities’ grip on credentials and force innovation.

Woz: Ask for new answers

To encourage innovative thinking, schools should let students work on semester-long projects, said Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in a speech, reports Computerworld.

“A really innovative person is known for something that usually took an awful lot of thinking, maybe even over years, and a lot of development in a laboratory putting it together and getting it to work. And it’s new and it’s different. And it’s not something you read about in a book,” he said.

“In school, intelligence is a measurement,” he continued. “If you have the same answer as everyone else in math or science, you’re intelligent.”

In English class, students write essays that express their own ideas, Wozniak said. (He may be overestimating the creativity of  assigned essays.)  Computer science students also should seek “different answers than what I’ve known in the past or what I’ve read or heard,” he said.

Technology development projects reward innovators with a feeling of personal pride of accomplishing something no one else has done before, and “that’s the sort of thing that inspires you to believe in yourself as an inventor type, not just an engineer who knows the equation.”

“The value of these big projects is you learn diligence, lot of repetition. A lot of hard work results in something that’s your own. Your own. You built it. You have personal pride,” he said. “Personal pride is the strongest motivating force there is.”

Wozniak taught computer science for years in the public schools his children attended in Los Gatos, a wealthy suburb of San Jose.

As an example of what Wozniak is talking about, I highly recommend Neal Bascomb’s The New Cool, subtitled “A Visionary Teacher, his FIRST Robotics Team and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts.”

How innovative is i3?

The Education Department will give $650 million to Investing in Innovation (i3) winners. How innovative are i3 winners? asks National Journal of its Education Experts.

With the i3 program, has the administration invested enough in proposals that bring truly innovative practices to the education system? Is America doing enough to leverage the benefits of modern technology in the education sector?

Stop chasing innovation, writes Diane Ravitch. Look for “systematic improvements” in curriculum, instruction and assessment.

The history of education-in-search-of-innovation is a story of big ideas, big egos, and no results. We are looking for change in all the wrong places. It is not innovation that we need, but an effective educational system, where teacher recruitment and preparation are highly valued, where the teaching profession is respected, where principals are known as master teachers, where the curriculum is rich and broad, where assessment eschews bubble-guessing, and where attention is paid to the quality of children’s lives.

Instead of  “innovation,” call it Nonprofit and District Stuff That Seems to Work, writes Rick Hess. “Pound-for-pound, the $650 million for i3 is likely to do far more good than is the $4.35 billion for Race to the Top or the tens of billions showered upon K-12 through ARRA and edujobs,” he predicts. But “by narrowly drawing rules of evidence, emphasizing models that plug cleanly into conventional classroom-school-district structures, and stiff-arming for-profits, Congress and ED pretty much barred the door against potentially transformational innovations.”

This matters because i3 winners are going to be soaking up matching funds, climbing up foundation priority lists, and reaffirmed as the federally approved go-to’s for media stories on innovation. This will make it that much more difficult for truly game-changing efforts to gain support or attention, and will fuel the ED storyline that for-profit provision is an unnecessary distraction when it comes to scaling transformational innovation.

“Steering money to effective programs is loads better than mailing ten billion bucks to districts so they can keep doing the same old thing,” Hess writes. But transformative it’s not.

Innovating with online learning

Online learning will help schools innovate and save money, argues Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO and charter school advocate. Hastings bought the education software company DreamBox Learning for $10 million and donated ownership to the non-profit Charter School Growth Fund, reports Educated Guess. He believes tech-savvy charter schools will expand, showing school districts how to use “innovative technologies that will improve learning.”

Rocketship Education, a San Jose charter school organization, is Hastings’ model. Rocketship’s first elementary school, which serves low-income minority students, earned a very high 916 Academic Performance Index score last year.

Rocketship has incorporated a learning lab into a quarter of the school day;  the savings from the hybrid model of online and direct instruction reduces the number of  certificated teachers from 21 to 16,  saving each school $500,000 annually – a huge amount in low-funded California. That money is plowed back to raise teacher pay, improve instruction and pay for the next Rocketship’s building. Rocketship is opening a third school this fall, with the fourth in 2011.

At a Rocketship strategy meeting, Hastings said DreamBox offers adaptive math software for grades 1 to 3. “It can identify areas that individual students aren’t getting, then diagnose and break down the problem areas into pieces that the students will understand. Students go at their own pace.” Rocketship hopes “improved online software and assessments can provide close to 50 percent of instruction.”

But Don Shalvey,  the co-founder and board chair of Aspire Public Schools and now  deputy director of the Gates Foundation, cautioned that students will still need the social and emotional support of adults in school in ways that cannot be done from distance learning. Non-teaching adults in schools will play larger roles. School culture will remain critical.

Some teacher unions will see online education as a threat to their jobs and fight its inclusion in district schools.

But Shalvey said online learning, by freeing teachers to teach critical thinking and problem solving and by creating savings that can be directed to teachers’ pay, has the potential to “raise the dignity” and respect for teaching as a profession – an exciting opportunity.

The Gates Foundation is looking for high-performing charter schools that serve as “lighthouses of cooperation,” Shalvey said.

Online schooling is attracting special education students, especially those who have trouble functioning in a classroom, reports Education Week.

Colleges fight for funding

On Community College Spotlight:  How can community colleges get their fair share of federal funding? Critics say other higher education groups — ostensibly Big Six allies — are hostile to community colleges. Also, where’s the innovation? And what will it take to get community college instructors to talk with high school teachers about the skills students need to pass college courses?

Funding education innovators

You’ve got a great idea for a new kind of school or a teacher recruitment program. How do you get the start-up money? In “Fueling the Engine,” in Education Next, Rick Hess writes about education innovators and the philanthropists that fund them.  It’s an excerpt from his new book Education UnboundThe Promise and Practice of Greenfield Schooling.

“Greenfield is a term of art typically used by investors, engineers, or builders to refer to an area where there are unobstructed, wide-open opportunities to invent or build,” Hess writes. Or as, Mao said: “Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend.”

The challenge for reformers is to recognize that enabling such providers is not just a matter of promoting “school choice,” but also of freeing up the sector to a wealth of different approaches and cultivating conditions in which problem solvers can succeed and grow. . .  funding is the fuel required for innovators to thrive.

The U.S. Education Department wants to fund innovation too, Hess notes.

Over $650 million in (federal i3) funds will be awarded, and a coalition of foundations announced last week that it will offer up to half a billion dollars to match the federal grants.

. . . Remember, the i3 investment probably amounts to a third or more of school reform investment in the U.S. this year, and the follow-up $500 million will increase its impact even more. This could be a substantial boon to innovation and a spur for new providers to take evaluation and scale far more seriously, or it could result in cementing the status of popular outfits that know how to write grants, land influential consultants, and afford high-priced evaluation.

Ed Week has more on the foundations’ partnership with the feds.


This Week in Education offers this cartoon, adapted from The New Yorker..

Innovative peant butter sandwich

Replication isn't innovation

The meaning of “innovation” has been twisted, stretched and distorted, writes Eduwonk guest blogger Curt Johnson of Education/Evolving.

For Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, innovation seems to mean grabbing the lessons from schools with records of high performance and grafting them on to problem schools. Finding “what works,” adopting it, spreading it around. Why not call that what it is: replication?

But what works in one place may not work everywhere, Johnson writes. Schools and teachers need the freedom to try new things that might not work out as planned. True innovation won’t be “evidence-based.”  And it won’t be easy.

(Harvard Professor Clayton) Christensen’s career rests on his distinction between “sustaining” innovation — the constant improvements that successful enterprises make in their products or services — and “disruptive” innovation in which a new and different product or business model bursts through from a competitor the established firm cannot emulate.

This highlights a critical problem with ‘innovation’. These disruptive innovations, the truly new models, are never high-quality at first. They appeal just to people not being served well by the mainstream offerings.

“Most people aren’t ready for radical change,” Johnson writes.

We need some true innovators, but we also need replicators who will build on successful school models.

Iowa rejects independent charter schools

Iowa’s charter schools are run by school districts. It turns out they’re not very innovative,  reports the Des Moines Register. In essence, the state collected federal charter funding for a handful of magnet schools with no autonomy or ability to challenge the status quo.

Iowa schools, once rated the best in the nation, are slipping in national rankings.

In North Carolina, a top-scoring charter school that uses Direct Instruction wonders why the state seems uninterested in learning about their methods.

(Founder Baker) Mitchell said he feels the state is not really looking at the good things his school is doing, and he doesn’t know whether regular public schools are learning anything from the charter school.

Indeed, the state doesn’t keep track of innovations at charter schools and how they influence the public school system, said Jean Kruft , a consultant with the N.C. Office of Charter Schools.

Illinois will double the number of charter schools, including charters for five schools specializing in drop-outs.

Update: Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, spoke at the House Education and Labor Committee hearing on charter schools, reports Edspresso:

“I’m from the state of Ohio, so I think I look at things a little differently because most of our charter schools are not public charter schools. So, you may hear me coming from a very different vantage point.”

Of course, charters are public schools by definition. Fudge’s flub wasn’t the only one at the charter hearings.