A Skunkworks for Schools

By: Matt Candler
A Skunkworks for Schools first appeared on the 4.0 Schools Blog on February 21st, 2014.
Two days ago, we launched futureofschool.org. I’m pretty excited about it.
With our partners at New Schools for New Orleans and Khan Academy, 4.0 Schools will scour the globe for people willing to explore new ways of doing school. After we test their crazy ideas on a very small scale, we’ll chuck the ideas that don’t work and fine-tune the ones that do. In 2016, we’ll launch what we hope will be a groundbreaking new public school in New Orleans based on their ideas.
One group I hope we hear from is leaders of really great existing schools who want to rethink their current model.
One of the things we want to do with the Challenge, and all over 4.0 is to challenge assumptions about school today. For too long we’ve lumbered along avoiding the question: “What is school for?”
My inner teacher confesses to hijacking the conversation with my inner tinkerer and, increasingly, my inner parent on this topic. “Kids lives are stake. Let’s get back to the lesson. To the standards.” And so it has gone for decades with hard working teachers grunting it out in a system built for an industrial age long past. Turns out it is really hard to get out of the box in school.
With the Future of School Challenge, we’ve got a chance to drill some breathing holes in the box to let in some air and inspiration for people working their butts off in existing schools.
In fact, you can think of 4.0 as serving the role of a skunk works for schools. Since Lockheed coined the term in the 1940′s, these internal R and D labs are built within organizations and given broad autonomy to question the status quo and pursue bold ideas too wild for the existing org to pursue. And they’re making a comeback.
If 4.0 played the role of skunkworks for great schools that wanted to challenge their own assumptions, we could push the conversation about schooling forward quickly, maybe even faster than if we only invested in entrepreneurs who still haven’t learned how hard it can be to start schools.
The upside of experienced school folks is an awareness of the real challenges of executing day to day. The downside might be a lack of creativity. The upside of inviting unusual suspects without much time in schools is their capacity to reframe the whole game in a compelling new way we haven’t considered. I’m betting on parents and kids to show us the way here. But the downside of this perspective is a lack of awareness of how we’ll actually execute newer models.
That’s why I really like this idea of 4.0 serving as skunkworks partner to existing schools willing to think outside of their own box.
If that’s you, or if that’s your school, we want to hear from you. futureofschool.org
 Matt Candler is Founder and CEO of 4.0 Schools.

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