Building and Leveraging Networks to Scale Innovation in School Districts

A recent report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) summarized lessons from two Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiatives, the Next Generation Systems Initiative and the Regional Funds for Breakthrough Schools Initiative.

The next-gen systems grantees included Dallas ISD, Denver PS, Henry County PS, Lake County PS,  Pinellas County PS, Riverside USD.

Regional Funds associated with the Next Generation Learning Challenges include CityBridge in Washington, D.C., Colorado Education Initiative, Great Schools Partnership in New England, LEAP Innovations in Chicago, New Schools for New Orleans, and Rogers Family Foundation in Oakland.

The goal of the program was to support the development of personal learning pathways and profiles in flexible learning environments.

CRPE spent two years interviewing 450 educators in 39 schools in 17 cities. They asked educators how they attempted to personalize learning and they investigated how policies supported or impeded innovation.

The experiences of the schools in the Gates Foundation’s personalized learning initiatives followed a familiar pattern of promising practices struggling to replicate at scale across systems. The first few years of the initiative underscore the difficulty of innovating inside a system that was never designed for innovation.

The lessons from the initiative suggest that leaders must do four important things to build a more strategic system to support innovation at scale:

1.Set goals. Districts must help leaders and teachers in schools get clear on the problems that need to be solved and setting clear goals to focus innovation.

2. Create flexibility. Districts must create flexibility in the system, at both the school and classroom levels, clarifying exiting flexibility, granting more flexibility to broader aims,  and creating space to innovate: out of school, pilots, and zones.

3. Develop talent. Districts must build support for professional learning by embedding coaching, creating change management supports, and supporting knowledge sharing.

4. Build networks. Districts must identify which principals and faculties are positioned to design new models for instruction and which are positioned to adopt and adapt existing innovative practice. Design competitions can help identify new learning models. Districts should also be looking outside to local network partners that are poised for innovation and collaboration.

The report recommends that districts “find ways to support more innovation and experimentation.”

Check out the microsite or the full report.

For more, see:

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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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