A model for system-wide reform?

Helen Flynn's picture
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I recently attended the Guardian ‘Innovation in Education’ Conference, held near King’s Cross on 11th November. Though the strapline for the event was ‘21st Century Learning in an age of Austerity’, the issue of austerity was not dealt with in much detail. And thankfully so—constantly fed, as we are, on a daily smorgasbord of cuts and general economic doom. Thus, it was good to have a chance to engage with some blue skies thinking about the future for our young people—a future of rapidly changing technologies that are continuously altering our relationship to information, set against a background of an increasingly unstable environment.

Though much of the event addressed the nature of learning, one session stood out as presenting an attempt at system-wide school reform that was refreshing in presenting an alternative, holistic approach at improving state education for all. Given that the country this is taking place in is the USA, I must admit that I was surprised I had not heard anything about this initiative, as there is much of value and relevance for our own state education system.

Nelson Gonzalez of the Stupski Foundation started his presentation by telling us that the US public school system incorporates some 15,000 independent school districts managed through 50 states. Sadly, overall, some 25% of US pupils drop out of High School and 40% of all Afro-American and Latino children drop out. He described this situation as a ‘national emergency’ with some justification. Though the crisis in the USA is creating phenomenal opportunities for change—and we have heard about some of these piecemeal reforms to justify certain of our Government policies, such as Charter Schools—Gonzalez made the point persuasively that there was a ‘shared realisation that small incremental change is not enough’. He was insistent that what the US public education system needs is a ‘massive system re-design’, but that this cannot take place using a market-place system alone, and that equity is the reason why we cannot give up on public systems. (I wish someone would whisper these words into Michael Gove’s ear….)

The Stupski Foundation has been engaged for over two years in six US states on a massive project that operates on a 3-layer approach: state, district and school/community. This project seeks to engage all stakeholders in the school system with a focus on developing sustainable platforms that can engender system-wide innovation for the benefit of all—not some. Their pioneering system of using rapid-prototyping over 24-week cycles across the whole network at all levels, with sharing of information collaboratively, means that reforms that are working can be rolled out quickly, and those that aren’t can be abandoned. The idea is that you do not create winners and losers, and share success and best practice as soon as you can.

The very ambition of this project is something to be applauded, particularly as it incorporates a holistic approach. To find out more, visit this site, where you will find the Foundation’s admirable mission statement: ‘Fostering innovation in public school systems so that all students graduate ready for college, career and life’. It is certainly an initiative to watch.
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