Local & State Policies That Boost Achievement & Innovation

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To create widespread access to next gen learning opportunities that result in high rates of employability it takes the 7 keys to smart cities: sustained leadership that promotes an innovation mindset, fosters aligned investment, produces collective impact through aligned efforts, supports talent development, incubates new tools & schools, and facilitates productive local and state policies.
Rather than launching expensive advertising campaigns and chasing big corporate factory jobs with lucrative incentives that erode funding for schools, local and state policy makers should enact policies that are pro-growth, pro-achievement, pro-employability and pro-innovation.
Pro-growth. More important than marketing branded initiatives, the blocking and tackling of pro-growth policies is critical to creating an innovation ecosystem. Local and state policies should include competitive business tax rates, streamlined business formation, and lightweight compliance according to Stephen Adams, President of the American Institute for Economic Research. During an NPR interview, he mentioned that he’s skeptical of public investment in incubators and enterprise zone. He thinks incubators have become popular because they are sexier than talking about tax policy.
While Adams is skeptical of public investment in incubators and enterprise zones, city and state investment in EdTech incubators (like 4.0 Schools) may prove to be an exception. Not every city will become an EdTech hotspot but a good incubator can change the mindset, talent pipeline and learning landscape. Connecting teacher-leaders to new tools and helping them design new learning environments are two of the best and most efficient investments cities can make.
Pro-achievement. State education policy is critically important to creating a high-skill, high-innovation population. The traditional measure is adults with postsecondary degrees.  In the competency-based world of stackable credentials more robust measures will be developed.
State policy should embrace career readiness as well as high common standards in the basics. Policies should follow forward-leading K-12 frameworks like Digital Learning Now including:

  • Local and statewide providers providing full and part time access to online and blended learning with equitable access to quality options.
  • Strong outcome-based accountability that ensures that every neighborhood has access to good schools.
  • Weighted, flexible, portable funding that reflects challenges.
  • Competency-based educator preparation and development.
  • Support for learning infrastructure including facilities, broadband and devices.

Pro-employability. To dramatically increase the percentage of adults with postsecondary credentials, states should support inexpensive or free (means-tested) community college and job training. Employer groups should help set employability objectives. As outlined in the federal jobs bill signed Tuesday, local workforce boards should have the flexibility to focus on emerging job clusters in their region.
Support for public baccalaureate institutions should be provided via performance contracts with a focus on outcomes (completion rates weighted toward priority degrees and value added as measured by Collegiate Learning Assessment or similar).
High school and college students should have access to coaching on habits of success–the personal management and social skills to succeed in a dynamic work setting. Students should experience success in college, work, service, and the arts before graduating from high school.
Pro-innovation. To kickstart innovation and expand access to next-gen learning, states could also support:

According to PIE Network CEO Suzanne Kubach, “For too long, we’ve approached the task of working together to influence state-level education policy as if states coexist in a national, top-down institution. In reality, when it comes to influencing state-level policy, information and ideas move in multiple directions, defying traditional notions of orderly coordination. Information moves differently through networks, which create a whole new world for strategy.” Kubach continues, “Really, PIE and other key connector organizations like NewSchools,Excel in Ed and CEE-Trust provide the ‘kegpresence’ of education reform.  Their convening power create places where leaders bump into each other, which fosters brain-bending idea exchanges. Because networks spread ideas and resources further and more efficiently, funders no longer need narrow their focus on just a handful of possible state partners. Networks often surface “up and comers” from surprising places, which is really exciting.”

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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