Collaborate to Innovate!

There was a very interesting article in a recent edition of Education Week (January 23, 2013). The article focused on a group of eight California districts which had united to petition the USDOE for a waiver to NCLB. They were doing this independently of the rest of the state, and the state’s department of ed.

While the details are interesting from a policy perspective, it’s the precedent that I am excited about.

Since the beginning of the modern school age, we have depended upon a paradigm that focuses on a geographically-based unit as the determiner of what a student’s educational opportunity will be. Neighborhood school, local magnet, high-achieving district — these have all been vital for determining educational outcomes. While wonderful exceptions occur, there is still a strong correlation between zipcode and academic success.

In the 21st Century I refuse to accept that a student’s opportunity for learning should continue to be determined by geography!

If eight California districts can do it, why can’t eight innovative districts scattered across the U.S. decide to share expertise, teachers, resources, and opportunities for student learning that are not dependent on geography? Why not eight innovative teachers in far flung schools? I know this can work. A recent NASA grant to CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers) allowed 50 students from eight states, the District of Columbia and two kids from France to work towards achieving a credit in physics using content drawn from the realm of aviation, space exploration and related narrow interest fields.

A recent blog encouraged teachers or districts to try setting up an “innovation zone”. The zone designation would allow those involved to seek exemptions from school, district or state regulations (such as dependence on the Carnegie Unit, or school curriculum maps) which are not federally mandated or required.

Take heart from the California example! If you are an innovative teacher, or school, or district and know of others who are at a similar stage on the innovation journey, consider joining forces across arbitrary geographic boundaries. Be bold about working together to cause learning to occur in new and exciting ways for your students.

“The future’s ours, if we can free it!”

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