Better Schooling: Offering An Innovative Idea

tt-schooling.jpgWe’ve heard the cliché, running in place results in predictable results. This method represents the status quo and an acceptance of things as they are, which is a poor foundation for future success, especially if the subject is the education of our children in decades to come. I would suggest that one of the clues that can propel our children toward a more successful future is to approach education with a creative touch that has often been lacking.

Education in our country must continue to improve in order to support greater economic mobility for the masses. Any semblance of an inadequate educational system is at the root of our country’s broader economic challenges. By embracing more creative thinking, we can improve our nation’s education system and meet those challenges. With that in mind, I have introduced a proposal, S-2628, known as the Innovation Schools Act.

The goal is to provide educators and other stakeholders across the state with the opportunity to create new in-district and autonomous schools that can implement creative and inventive strategies, increase student achievement, and reduce achievement gaps while keeping school funding within districts. These unique schools would operate with increased autonomy and flexibility in six key areas with the goal of establishing the school conditions that lead to improved teaching and learning. The six key areas are as follows: 

  1. Curriculum;
  2. Budget;
  3. School schedule and calendar;
  4. Staffing policies and procedures;
  5. School district policies and procedures and
  6. Professional development.

Our approach allows local leaders and educators, those with a front seat view of the challenges, idiosyncrasies and unique local needs, to formulate plans that work for them. The idea behind this is “increased autonomy and flexibility.” Faculty and school leaders will take the lead in creating and implementing an innovation plan that will best prepare the students for later academic success or to help them shape career choices. The descriptive terms “autonomy” and “flexibility” require emphasis.

We have presumably arrived at educational guidelines after thoughtfulness, thorough considerations. However, even with these components, the end results haven’t always met the intended goal. As I have alluded to, local brainpower and individuals with an insider view, especially with a topic as important as the education of our kids, hold the key.

Flexibility, of course, begins with your assessment of how truly open educational institutions are to new ideas. If you have a group of educators, teachers, and students, and they automatically believe an innovative idea is doomed to failure, you have already condemned the initiative. But if you believe that fresh ideas — no matter how unorthodox or out of the box they are — are worthy, then it changes the entire perspective. I have said frequently that no one person has a monopoly on good ideas. Why would we be afraid of them? Why would we not welcome them?

And this is precisely where my legislation, the Innovation Schools Act, begins.

For an existing or new school to adopt the innovation mantle, it must be a public institution. It must further submit a plan that outlines the precise nature, programs, and goals that it expects to achieve. The criteria for a successful school will rest, in part, on its ability to ensure compliance and adherence to its goals, and each innovative school will have to provide an assessment of its progress related to “student outcomes data including student achievement on statewide assessments.” Further, to ensure that the innovative school remains on track, the school superintendent will be responsible for an annual review.

A unique feature is the background of contributors who form the school. It can be a broad range of contributors, from parents and teachers to nonprofit, community-based organizations and unions. In short, those involved would include a wide range of people who both care and understand the educational needs of their community.

I find it curious that we laud innovation in the workplace, in the entertainment field, and in the sciences. Why can’t we apply the same sense of expectation to our education process? I believe that we can and should have the same goals for our schools. And my Innovation Schools Act is a step forward to harnessing real innovation and improving our children’s educational experience.

That’s my take, what’s yours?

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  • Frank Friedman
    commented 2018-09-06 22:59:57 -0400
    One problem I see is that these schools must have the same responsibilities toward ALL students, including those that may cause trouble and those with the wide variety of disabilities that other schools have to deal with. In other words, they have to be open to all and they have to afford equal opportunity learning opportunities for all.

    Students and faculty need the same protections now afforded by public schools, although faculty performance review procedures may need adjustments a) to protect teachers from unwanted harassment by superiors, b) and to ensure that teachers who have demonstrated an inability to do their jobs can be released, regardless of seniorty.

    The devil is in the details, as always, but the idea of encouraging innovation and experimentation is a good one. The New Jersey public school system appears to be stifling these practices now. One has to proceed patiently and with an eye toward being sure that we can measure the impatc of some of the new envirnments that are created.
  • Matt Ernandes
    commented 2018-09-06 16:15:03 -0400
    The legislation creating Charter schools encourages the formation of unique schools. Though Charter schools have been established and are flourishing in some urban areas many died on arrival after much groundwork due to the lack of adequate and suitable brick and mortar, which may be a stumbling block for the intent of this act.