We've heard a lot about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) -- the breakout trend of the year -- but it's still a fringe concept feeding what Clayton Christensen calls non-consumption. The real story is how the diverse web of nearly 5,000 institutions (broadly speaking) of higher learning in the U.S. are responding to cost pressure, calls for higher completion rates and better job preparation, and student demands for relevance.


After Bill Gates saw a series of lectures by David Christian on big history Gates said, "He really blew me away. Here's a guy who's read across the sciences, humanities, and social sciences and brought it together in a single framework. It made me wish that I could have taken big history when I was young, because it would have given me a way to think about all of the school work and reading that followed. In particular, it really put the sciences in an interesting historical context and explained how they apply to a lot of contemporary concerns."


Here at Getting Smart, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve learning. We advocate for tools and schools that work better for students and teachers. We love to see and share stories about engaged learners producing quality products.


What will next generation districts do well? In the last week I've had the opportunity to discuss that question with hundreds of school board members and superintendents.


"Houston, unlike other cities, is insanely entrepreneurial and optimistic. It incubates the hell out of new ideas," said nonprofit leader Rhetta Detrich. She would know; she helped build Education Pioneers national network. Lacking the provinciality of East Coast cities, "Houston exists because it was founded on the premise of outsiders bringing good ideas and industry."


Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were the top megatrend of 2012. MOOCs made the shift from curiosity to employability. Antioch University is proving that it's getting easier to convert a MOOC experience into college credit. ACE is close behind, evaluating Coursera courses for credit. EdX and the Gates Foundation partnered this month to offer MOOCs at MassBay Community Colleges, proctored through Pearson VUE.


Two decades of experience with performance contracting in the delivery of public education has wrought some hard earned lessons. We know what good authorizing looks like. We know how to open great new schools.


Annually, for more than 45 years, the city of Reynoldsburg, Ohio has celebrated the Tomato Festival-- a nod to its heritage as the birthplace of the commercial tomato. This middle-America town also boasts one other claim to fame: A so-called "traditional" LEA, namely Reynoldsburg City Schools (RCS), which is poised to be a breakout star among serious implementers of thoroughly re-engineered conceptions of learning and schooling.


Five big trends that will shape education for the next decade became fully evident this year.


School improvement is more about execution than innovation, but doing what works -- like tutoring struggling students -- consistently across a network seems pretty innovative in education.


The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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