The world is changing at an amazing pace. But not so in education, suggests Minnesota native Tom Friedman in his latest book, “Thank You For Being Late.” Friedman suggests that the world today is playing by a new set of rules — but education seems to believe results will improve if we just try harder. His caution is right. Schools have been “trying harder” for 40 years, and results are what we’d expect from a 100-year-old design.
Using only the traditional design of system and school, Minnesota simply will not close the achievement gap nor will we prepare all of our students for their futures.
So we are asking the Legislature to create Innovation Zones (IZ) to research new ways of educating students. Many students excel today, but many could do much better. What if …
• We personalized each student’s education based on each student’s needs, aspirations and aptitudes rather than using the one-size-fits-all standardized model?
• We treated teachers as professionals and let them make key decisions about schooling?
• Students could work independently on challenging projects rather than going to a school building?
• We designed new methods of accountability that provided better information, changed “test days” into “learning days” and did so at reduced cost?
• We let schools use current funding to address students’ needs and research a return on investment for new ideas?
Minnesota spends tens of billions of dollars every year on education. An enterprise of this size must do research-and-development.
We are leaders who want to research new ideas. Four of us are superintendents who, together with the professional teachers in our districts, are convinced that redesigned schools will have better results for more students. Today we cannot do all we want to because some laws and rules won’t let us or there are no incentives.
This does not mean everyone must “do different.” We support the “split-screen strategy” that Ted Kolderie has advocated in your pages. Some schools could work to improve current practice. Others could be researching new ideas. It’s not one or the other. Both are needed.
The IZs will give schools both the flexibility from selected laws and rules and the autonomy to research new and better ideas. We want a “bottoms up” approach in which the school and local community can identify new ideas.
Schools now are mostly a one-size-fits-all model. Learning time is a constant. State graduation rules are the same for all. Every student must master algebra II in order to graduate. Yet only 54 percent of 11th graders are passing the state math test. Something is wrong here.
Schools should have flexibility in how funding is used. Some funds can be used only before and after school but not during the day when some students would benefit most.
The digital platform has amazing curriculum available at the press of a button in each student’s shirt pocket or purse. In the IZ, teachers might design school so students do not need to come to class — which state reporting today requires.
New federal education laws help, but state testing remains a problem. Districts and schools welcome accountability, but state tests should also provide information useful for teachers. Now they do not. New models of evaluation could save tens of millions of dollars each year, would provide better data, improve accountability and the testing days become instruction days. Parents, students and schools want this. The IZ will provide better models.
Recent Minnesota studies predict that by 2018 and beyond about 75 percent of those entering the workforce will need some post-secondary education. We believe that 20 percent or more of high school students could complete two years of college while in high school. Other students could complete career certifications. The business community could provide apprenticeships as a part of this model so these individuals would be livable-wage job ready. The high cost of post secondary education could be reduced to zero for some.
To do this we need to redesign school. To redesign school we need encouragement from the state.
Let’s hope the Legislature is willing to trust our local boards and create Innovation Zones.
Jay Haugen is superintendent in Farmington. Jeff Ronneberg is superintendent in Spring Lake Park. Lisa Snyder is superintendent in Lakeville. Les Fujitake is superintendent in Bloomington. Lars Esdal is executive director of Education Evolving.