in·no·va·tion (noun) 1: the introduction of something new; 2: a new idea, method, or device
The term innovation is becoming more and more prevalent in education-related discussions. Schools from coast to coast are adopting "innovative" models to address educational needs in local communities. The range of practice associated with these models is wide. Some models are prescribed programs with detailed requirements for professional development and implementation. Other models are more tailored to an individual community and somewhat less specific in structure and delivery. The development of these K-12 programs has been accompanied by university programs designed to facilitate growth, increase successful outcomes, and analyze results.
At the core of these innovative school models are a couple of key ingredients that greatly benefit students. First, innovative models are thoughtfully designed to meet student needs in a variety of ways that are highly relevant for the 21st century. These schools are not delivering a curriculum that has slowly evolved over decades into an often disconnected series of topics. Second, innovative models strive for small school characteristics that create fewer opportunities for anonymity between and among students and staff. Third, innovative models attempt to maximize school and community partnerships. By harnessing the resources and support of the wider community, learning is more powerful and connected for children and adults alike.
What are the predominant innovative models being implemented in K-12 schools around the country? Here are a few models with links to relevant websites. Keep in mind that some of these models are relatively new, while others have been around for many years.
KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) - This program was started by Dave Levin and Mike Feinburg. A recent USA Today article noted that there are currently "66 schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia. It educates more than 16,000 children from preschool through high school, virtually all of them low-income." In a nutshell, KIPP has a demanding college prep curriculum that is delivered through extended hours and days throughout the year. Parent involvement is also a key component of the program.
Expeditionary Learning - EL is a K-12 model that grew from the original work of Kurt Hahn and Outward Bound. EL has a strong constructivist approach to education. Students are highly active in this model and curiosity in encouraged.
Early College High School - ECHS is a model designed primarily for secondary students, but preparation for successful ECHS experiences often extends into middle grades. The ECHS model grows the traditional dual credit opportunities for high school students into a structured program designed to deliver associates degrees or two years of transferable credit concurrently with high school graduation. ECHS models partner with universities and colleges to add high levels of support to high school students who are largely underserved in the traditional programs.
There are other examples including The Project School, New Tech High School, Project Child, language immersion schools, Key Learning Community, and countless other programs ranging from magnet schools and charter programs to redesigned traditional settings. Information about these programs is scattered across the Internet and in a range of publications. I encourage readers to visit these links and add others in comments. I would love help identifying the best of these programs from communities across the country. If you have a model you'd like to share or a school you'd like to highlight, be sure to share it with us.
Innovative models are not the solution to all that ails us, but the conversations surrounding design and delivery of these many programs has fostered great enthusiasm for our work even in these difficult times.
Resolve Revisited - In my December post (Resolve for the New Year) I offered several suggestions for resolutions that would be appropriate for educational leaders. I mentioned the high failure rate of many resolutions and encouraged thoughtful consideration of both the resolution and planning the support to make it happen. If we all could reflect now on the resolutions we made (I know some people don't believe in annual resolutions), how many of us are on track? One resolution I made was to be a mentor to a student in our district. While that effort got off to a slow start, I have now met with the student twice and talked with the parents and teachers on multiple occasions. The student and I are meeting every other week, and since we started, his attendance has improved and his organizational skills are being addressed. If you are on track with your resolutions great. If not, this is a great time to refocus your efforts.