Reflections on Innovation and Chartering

I visited last month in Minnesota with Education Week writer Arianna Prothero. She captured some of our conversation in her June 3rd blogpost.  Here are excerpts, edited for length:

Q: When you sponsored the first charter school law, I know innovation was a big part of that. Have charter schools lived up to their promise to help innovate in public education. In what ways have they succeeded and what ways have they maybe fallen short?

A: The two core values, the fundamental values of chartering were innovation and autonomy. For the most part, the laws have allowed that to occur. Some states have limited that, unfortunately. With regard to innovation, I think we can do more, and we should be doing more in the sector. It doesn’t have to be something like year-round school, I’m looking more towards the innovation of personalized learning, of project-based learning, of 21st century learning.

Chartering provides the autonomy for that to occur. That doesn’t mean that it can’t occur in district schools; it does. I see that there’s a way for both the district and charter sectors to learn from each other on innovation. We haven’t done that very much. I believe there is much more to be done in innovation. I believe there is much more that both sectors can do, and we need to be focused on that for the future.

Q: Why do you think there hasn’t been more done in terms of innovation in the chartering sector up until this point?

A: Let me give you an example from a charter school I worked with personally. We applied for the federal funding startup grant for a very innovative school. The response to us was that we didn’t have data to support the innovation we were trying to create. You see, you can’t have data for something that hasn’t [been] established yet. We knew that in other contexts it worked.

When you have the old rules coming down on those trying to innovate, it creates a real conflict. We’ve got to be able to allow teachers and educators the freedom to experiment, the freedom to innovate, the freedom to try new things. If we do that, sometimes they might fail, but that’s OK, we learn from it and we figure out something new, a new strategy for learning. We don’t allow that in the education space.