September 2011 Archives

How many innovative companies does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, if there's a prize involved. Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the winner of the $10 million L-Prize, a competition to create a light bulb capable of producing as much light as a 60 watt incandescent bulb but using less than 10 watts of energy, an 83 percent reduction in energy use. The Department of Energy estimates that if Americans replaced all of their current 60 watt bulbs with the winning entry from Philips, we'd save $3.9 billion in energy costs per year. ...


NOTE: This is a guest post from Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. Whether for reasons of economic growth, competitiveness, social justice or return on tax-payer investment, there is little rational argument over the need for significant improvement in U.S. educational outcomes. Further, it is irrefutable that the country has made limited improvement on most educational outcomes over the last several decades, especially when considered in the context of the increased investment over the same period. In fact, the total cost of producing each successful high ...


If you read media reports about education, a lot of the stories you see make extraordinary claims about remarkable, heart-warming turnarounds in student achievement, which are often debunked some time later. This cycle of enthusiasm-debunking-disappointment gets us nowhere in improving outcomes for kids. Genuine miracles--dramatic turnarounds in formerly low-achieving schools--are just as likely in education as they are in any other field. That is, not very likely at all. In fact, most miracles in education turn out on inspection to be due to a change in the students served (as when a new charter or magnet school attracts higher performing ...


One of the greatest impediments to policies promoting the use of proven programs is a lack of agreement about the criteria for "proven." Among policy makers, the likelihood that they will have to preside over endless battles among academics on this question makes them want to forget about the whole thing. Fortunately, a consensus definition of "proven" is beginning to solidify. It is best stated in the standards for scale-up grants under the U.S. Department of Education's Investing in Innovation (i3) initiative, which demands at least one large, randomized evaluation showing positive effects of a program on outcomes of ...


Note: This is a guest post by Richard Barth, CEO and President of the KIPP Foundation In his inaugural post for this blog, Robert Slavin wrote, "We did not manage our way to the moon, we invented our way to the moon." I hear echoes of this statement throughout my work. Like other national charter school leaders, I am committed to making sure innovation can blossom and spread, throughout our own network and public schools nationwide. But along with innovation we must insist on research and results. Across the 31 KIPP regions nationally, for example, we give schools autonomy to ...


If you wear reading glasses, please take them off for a moment and continue reading this blog. You can't? You won't? Well, now put yourself in the position of a child in a high-poverty school who needs eyeglasses but does not have them. In the richest country in the world, it is shocking, but it is a fact that a very, very large number of disadvantaged children who need glasses don't have them. A New York City study of middle school children found that 28 percent of them needed glasses, and less than 3 percent had them. Studies in Baltimore-- ...


In a September 11 article in The New York Times called "China's Rise Isn't Our Demise," Vice President Joe Biden wrote a cogent summary of America's advantage in the world economy that has enormous implications for innovation in education. "The United States is hard-wired for innovation. Competition is in the very fabric of our society. It has enabled each generation of Americans to give life to world-changing ideas—from the cotton gin to the airplane, the microchip, the Internet. We owe our strength to our political and economic system and to the way we educate our children—not merely to...


Note: Steve Fleischman, deputy executive officer at Education Northwest, writes this guest post. Is evidence-based policy an oxymoron? Is it possible to have evidence serve as a guide rather than merely as a justification for policy? I think there are two ways in which evidence can play a key role in school improvement. The first is that evidence can help us identify high-leverage problems that create policy priorities. These are problems that, if solved, would reduce a large percentage of the variance between good and bad outcomes for kids. In 2004, for example, Paul Barton suggested a list of 14 ...


In the mid-2000s, the U.S. Department of Education commissioned a large, randomized evaluation of the most widely used computer-assisted instruction (CAI) programs in elementary reading and middle and high school math. Schools were randomly assigned to use one of several CAI programs. The results (published here and here) were dismal. In both subjects and all grade levels, achievement levels were virtually identical for the students who experienced CAI and those who did not. This finding was consistent with the conclusions of recent reviews of research on CAI in reading and math, which find that the higher the quality of ...


Fifty-four years ago, America was galvanized when the Soviet Union put a satellite into space. We responded as we always do when we have a national consensus on an important goal: We innovated. We invested heavily not only in rockets, but also in education, to prepare our entire nation to be second to none. I'm old enough to remember how exciting it was to feel a part of the national response to Sputnik. We knew that America would regain its leadership, and it was all up to us kids! In education today, we wait in vain for the "Sputnik moment," ...


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