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Navigating Unchartered Waters
“Innovation never comes from the established institutions.” This statement, coming from Eric Schmidt, who served as the chief executive of Google from 2001 until 2011, makes us sit up and take notice. While Google has certainly impacted the way we interact with the world and with each other, we wonder who will make that impact on the way we teach and the way we learn?
With a focus on the content of their individual mission statements (or charters), charter schools try to become that innovative force acting just outside of ‘established’ educational institutions. The popularity of such schools speaks volumes of the need for such innovation and the belief of many parents that if change is going to happen, it is most likely going to happen outside the public school system. Most, it seems, agree with Mr. Schmidt.
In last week’s blog I spoke of the limited success of charter schools when that success was measured by achievement on standardized tests. Charter school students are held to the same standard learning outcomes expected of public school students, and, by and large, do not seem to fare better when compared to their public school peers. Should one thus conclude that charter schools have failed?
School success, as is the case with student achievement, should never be measured by one yardstick alone. If the only purpose in creating charter schools was to improve standardized test scores, then I would consider them to be (again, by and large) a failure. However, what the charter school community wants, and what the public needs from such schools is not a new way to reach the old standard, but a new look at the standards themselves. And, therein lies the catch. The justified need for all schools to reach agreed upon educational goals, keeps every school within the ‘established institutions’ range and thus inhibits real innovation.
In the business world innovation happens because there is money to be made, a lot of money. Just ask Mr. Schmidt at Google. Risks are encouraged because the reward is so great. But in education, we fear change because we fear the risk involved. If you mess up the new and improved product you just start over again; the same cannot be said for the education of a child. So we hold fast to the old ways, begrudgingly allowing for adjustments but rarely adopting significant reform. We allow for some change in charter schools but continue to demand much of the same.
The solution? How about letting go? The plain, somewhat sarcastic, truth is that we are not doing such a great job educating our children to justify the fears mentioned above. The public and charter school communities must agree upon criteria to create ‘unestablished (sic) institutions’ that can responsibly experiment with extensive educational reform. Together we must find ways to allow for the navigation of unchartered waters. Only then will we be able to realize the same level of incredible progress we witness in almost every other arena of our modern society. If you don’t believe me, just Google it.