What’s Innovative in Education Wouldn't be Innovation Elsewhere

Despite a flurry of activity surrounding new educational approaches and school designs, 21st-century schools in the United States and abroad remain resistant places for innovation. Over the past decade, school reform has gone through very few changes. It seems that every time test scores go up slightly, it’s because of innovation in the education system. But, our nation’s test scores reveal a decade of industry stagnation.

Today, everyone is striving to be innovative. It is a word that encompasses everything exciting. It is something that professionals, individuals, and even students strive for because it is what they believe will make them stand out from the crowd. Having someone describe you as innovative makes you feel special. It means your ideas are new, some would even say magical.

So, what makes these so-called “innovative schools” what they are today? Is it the fact that they’re operating in a revolutionary way that is shaping the education sector and the future of our world? Or, is it simply the fact that they’re achieving high test scores and, therefore, making districts look good?

What Does Innovation in Education Look Like Today?

Today, there is a growing number of charter schools across the United States. We call charter schools that help students achieve proficiency “innovative”. If we limited the term to one network like Success Academies and their school leader, that would be one thing, but we also call KIPP and Achievement First and other schools that are known for producing above average test scores “innovators”. This is a term being used too liberally as more often than not, it is a label given to schools that are producing high test scores and not necessarily doing anything different.

Moreover, charter schools are achieving these scores through somewhat controversial methods. Many of them turn away kids with special needs or disabilities. We also seem to have forgotten that it is the way schools organize and manage their education systems that make them original, not the grades they produce.

With the above in mind, there is nothing really groundbreaking about these institutions. And, it’s not just charter schools. Many also refer to traditional district schools as innovative when they achieve high test scores, but there have been no significant changes that warrant them the label other than outperforming their peers. The person who attends class every day is the student. The person who leads the classroom is still the teacher. The person who leads the school is still called the principal. And, the person who leads a set of schools is still called a Superintendent.

Education remains one of the only industries in the world where simply sticking to your job description is innovative. While the best teachers remain those with character and creativity, they continue to teach children a curriculum designed for a 19th-century workforce.

Education remains one of the only industries in the world where simply sticking to your job description is innovative.

The Future of Innovation in Education

Technology providers, teachers, governments, philosophers and various other individuals and entities are seeking to reinvigorate the US education system. Unfortunately, there are so many beliefs out there that understanding innovation in education is increasingly difficult.

From personalized and blended learning techniques to debates surrounding the various types of schools available, there are different concepts being tested with the goal of transforming the education system. So, what makes something innovative? Yes, good results could prove that an idea works but, it’s not the result that’s original, it’s the practice behind that result.

An innovative practice should address an important challenge in the education sector. It happens when educators ask themselves how they can make their lesson real, relevant, focused on students, interesting, and personal. It should give all kids, regardless of the zipcodes they were born in, an equal chance at reaching their full potential.

Furthermore, innovation in education shouldn’t be limited to academic results. It should focus on creativity and emotional wellbeing. It should be progressive and teach kids what they can do with their knowledge. It should inspire students to become critical thinkers, to ask questions, to use their imaginations.

The Bar for Innovation in Schools is too Low

Public schools struggle to get their kids to reach proficiency in subjects like math and English. Because of this, we have come to tolerate a lower bar for what is actually innovative. But, test scores shouldn’t be at the forefront of innovation.

Innovation in education should be about finding a way to reach students we could not previously reach and engaging them in creative ways to help them reach their full potential.

Schools of all kinds have the ability to be “innovative”. They have the resources and structures to help their kids succeed. The key is to earn the title for something more than just high test scores. Let us push schools to truly do something different.

Working with a team of professionals with successful experience implementing new programs into your school will ignite creativity and engagement among your students, allowing them to reach their full potential at school and in life.