Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I don't get innovation

Article after article, blog after blog says that all we need to do is to hire competent principals and give them the freedom to be innovative. If we just allow innovation, our schools will magically close the achievement gap, raise performance, and send every kid to college.

I don't buy it. After 100 odd years of our current education system, shouldn't we have figured out what works by now? Is some principal going to magically discover that if you paint all the walls "blue" student achievement will increase?

Perhaps I am naive, but just about every education reform that can be imagined has been tried at some point in the past. Whole language, parental classes, tough standards, smaller classes, larger classes, inquiry learning, explicit instruction, longer class days, constructivism, small schools, large schools, unschooling, charter schools, private schools, etc...

What's left to try? What possible innovation is a principal going to come up with?

How about this for an innovative idea... lets discard all our prejudices, preconceived notions, and figure out what works in a conclusive scientific manner.

We could take all the various school models and pedagogy's, randomly assign them to various schools. Enforce their implementation (if you don't fully cooperate, you are fired), measure the results, and implement the winning model.

Once we had established a benchmark, we could establish experimental schools to test further innovations. If the innovation managed to improve on the benchmark, then test the innovation in another school. If the innovation was validated, then it could be methodically implemented, while simultaneously monitoring its effect.

Our country has some of the most productive data driven companies in the world. Our businesses routinely use similar methods to improve their customer service and products. Why can't we use data driven decisions and the scientific method to determine how best to educate our most precious commodities... our children.