I have been listening, talking, reading and writing...with the State Dept. of Education about the Innovation Zone legislation we anticipate being introduced during the 2009 legislativev session. I thought that you might be interested in the lastest draft of the legislation and some comments from Dr. Johnson regarding the draft.
Recently, a couple of articles have passed my desk that reinforce Create WV's strong support of Innovation Zones-
Bill Gates issued his first "annual letter" on the work of his foundation. Here's what he says about education. ----------------------------
Nine years ago, the foundation decided to invest in helping to create better high schools, and we have made over $2 billion in grants. The goal was to give schools extra money for a period of time to make changes in the way they were organized (including reducing their size), in how the teachers worked, and in the curriculum. The hope was that after a few years they would operate at the same cost per student as before, but they would have become much more effective.
Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way. These tended to be the schools that did not take radical steps to change the culture, such as allowing the principal to pick the team of teachers or change the curriculum. We had less success trying to change an existing school than helping to create a new school.
Even so, many schools had higher attendance and graduation rates than their peers. While we were pleased with these improvements, we are trying to raise college-ready graduation rates, and in most cases, we fell short.
But a few of the schools that we funded achieved something amazing. They replaced schools with low expectations and low results with ones that have high expectations and high results. These schools are not selective in whom they admit, and they are overwhelmingly serving kids in poor areas, most of whose parents did not go to college. Almost all of these schools are charter schools that have significantly longer school days than other schools.
I have had a chance to spend time at a number of these schools, including High Tech High ( https://www.hightechhigh.org/ )in San Diego and the Knowledge Is Power Program ( https://www.kipp.org/ ), or “KIPP,” in Houston. There is a wonderful new book out about KIPP called Work Hard. Be Nice., by the education reporter Jay Mathews. It’s an inspiring look at how KIPP has accomplished these amazing results and the barriers they faced.
It is invigorating and inspirational to meet with the students and teachers in these schools and hear about their aspirations. They talk about how the schools they were in before did not challenge them and how their new school engages all of their abilities. These schools aim to have all of their kids enter four-year colleges, and many of them achieve that goal with 90 percent to 100 percent of their students. Every visit energizes me to work to get most high schools to be like this.
These successes and failures have underscored the need to aim high and embrace change in America’s schools. Our goal as a nation should be to ensure that 80 percent of our students graduate from high school fully ready to attend college by 2025. This goal will probably be more difficult to achieve than anything else the foundation works on, because change comes so slowly and is so hard to measure. Unlike scientists developing a vaccine, it is hard to test with scientific certainty what works in schools. If one school’s students do better than another school’s, how do you determine the exact cause? But the difficulty of the problem does not make it any less important to solve. And as the successes show, some schools are making real progress.
Based on what the foundation has learned so far, we have refined our strategy. We will continue to invest in replicating the school models that worked the best. Almost all of these schools are charter schools. Many states have limits on charter schools, including giving them less funding than other schools. Educational innovation and overall improvement will go a lot faster if the charter school limits and funding rules are changed.
One of the key things these schools have done is help their teachers be more effective in the classroom. It is amazing how big a difference a great teacher makes versus an ineffective one. Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.
Whenever I talk to teachers, it is clear that they want to be great, but they need better tools so they can measure their progress and keep improving. So our new strategy focuses on learning why some teachers are so much more effective than others and how best practices can be spread throughout the education system so that the average quality goes up. Wewill work with some of the best teachers to put their lectures online as a model for other teachers and as a resource for students.
Finally, our foundation has learned that graduating from high school is not enough anymore. To earn enough to raise a family, you need some kind of college degree, whether it’s a certificate or an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. So last year we started making grants to help more students graduate from college. Our focus will be on helping improve community colleges and reducing the number of kids who start community college but don’t finish.
And this very recent article from Education Week starts out.....
If "scientifically based evidence" was the rallying cry for education research over the past eight years, the watchwords for the field in the post-Bush era seem headed toward "development" and innovation."
A growing number of foundations, entrepreneurs, national education groups, and public officials have called in recent months for a stepped-up emphasis on generating findings, programs, and products that practitioners find useful and that will help revolutionize the way America does school.
When it is all said and done, I like what Dr. Johnson wrote to me a while back about Innovation Zones:
"(H)ave the governor weigh in publicly that he is going to insist on a level of autonomy for schools trying out innovative approaches that separates them from the conventional controls by the state or the district boards. I can imagine Gov. Machin saying something like this: Let them be judged by their results. We won’t tell them how to get those results, what materials to use, what learning strategies are best, how to spend their budgets --- we’ll just pay attention to achievement – and to the satisfaction that parents show. After all, no one’s going to be assigned to any of these schools – not teachers, not students. No one will be there who doesn’t want to be there. And that’s what this legislation should be about – rather than ordering anyone to do anything, this is about permission. Permission to do things differently. To have some schools that are truly different from the others. Nothing short of that will make any difference for West Virginia.”