Monday, November 2, 2009

Let's Get Real About Innovation in Our Schools


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Below is the text of a comment I submited to this Edutopia Blog post:

Title: "Let's Get Real About Innovation in Our Schools" By Suzie Boss10/12/09

My comment (submitted Nov. 2, 2009):

My impression is that when U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and school reformists use the term "innovation," they are referring to charter schools. The reformist view, is it not, is that charter schools are the way to introduce innovation into public education? Non-charter public schools, in the reformist view, are supposed to provide strictly regressive, traditional, back-to-basics education:

- The curriculum is to be uniform throughout the district and is narrowly-focused on the knowledge and skills that are tested on the high stakes tests

- teachers teach to the test

- principals (as Instructional Leaders), instructional coaches, and "teacher mentors" conduct "Learning Walks" (google it) to make sure that teachers are adhering to the teaching of core curriculum with utmost fidelity.

In the reformist view, school choice, and innovations are great and highly desirable, as long as these elements of public education are available only through charter schools. Competition is desirable, but not within the non-charter public system. Charter schools compete against non-charter schools, private schools, and among themselves, but non-charter public schools structured so that they do not compete against each-other.

Here in Seattle, the district has withdrawn all support for non-charter Alternative schools, is aligning curriculum uniformly across the district, and is eliminating opportunity for patrons to choose non-charter public schools (all students will be assigned to their neighborhood school, except when there is not enough capacity; a few "option" schools are available to address overflow).

Washington State does not yet permit charter schools, but the Seattle district has allowed a single psuedo-charter to start up. The District gives this school lots of support. Why is innovation good in charter (and psuedo-charter) schools, but unacceptable in non-charter public schools?

In conlusion I doubt very much that any of the DOE funds for innovation will go to expanding and developing WITHIN the non-charter public school systems the GREAT EXAMPLES of innovation that already exist within the non-charter public schools.

We still have some innovative and very successful Alternative schools within SPS, despite the lack of support from the District. Thornton Creek Elementary school, which follows the Expeditionary/Outward bound model, just received last spring the presigious Imag'nation Award from the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Thornton Creek is the first school outside of New York State to receive this award.

Parent activists in Seattle are trying to save the Alternative school system, but it is an uphill battle. Do you have any advice for us?


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