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School Districts of Innovation

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The following is a guest post from David N. Cook, Director of Innovation and Partner Engagement at the Kentucky Department of Education.

In his book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World (Scribner, 2012), Tony Wagner states "What we need is a new engine of economic growth for the twenty-first century." He goes on to say that engine is innovation. Simply put, our economic future rests in creating a new education system that "creates innovators." The current education system was not designed to address the rapidly changing world in which we live. In the twenty first century world, technology and innovation are shrinking the planet every day. This change requires the youth of our nation to become globally competitive by focusing on improving their skills in adaptability, problem solving, creativity and collaboration, as well as using the digital tools at their fingertips to improve those skills.

This will require a very different learning system designed to effectively facilitate students' mastery of these skills. It requires us to think of schools without walls, learning that occurs 24/7/365 and a wide range of roles for educators. The urgency of this change, coupled with decreases in funding for education at all levels, means that our system needs to look to new opportunities to invest in our economic future, our kids.

In Kentucky, we have taken two bold steps toward transforming to this new system. First, in March 2012, the Kentucky General Assembly passedHouse Bill 37, which created a process for existing public school districts to become " Districts of Innovation." The law provides public school districts the opportunity to apply to the Kentucky Board of Education to be exempt from certain administrative regulations and statutory provisions, as well as waiving local board policy, in an effort to improve the learning of students. By "re-thinking" what a school might look like, districts will be able to redesign student learning in an effort to engage and motivate more students and increase the numbers of those who are ready for postsecondary opportunities. The idea is to see what kinds of models existing public schools would create if they had the much- needed flexibility in areas of school governance, time and calendar, educator roles and measuring mastery of the common core standards that the best schools in the country enjoy.

In addition to providing the necessary flexibility schools need, Kentucky has also embarked on a new initiative designed to better connect our education system to all the resources and investment opportunities available by establishing The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky. This independent, non-profit corporation will provide Kentucky with an organization whose focus will be on securing the resources necessary to incubate and scale the innovative ideas vital to creating the 21st century learning environment described above. The fund will promote creative and collaborative solutions by conducting research, spurring dialogue, messaging the urgency for system change, incubating innovative ideas, brokering partnerships, identifying proof points and scaling promising practices.

By creating the space and resources for schools and districts to incubate the ideas necessary to create the innovators of the future, Kentucky hopes to lead the way in securing our economic future.

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