Skunk Works: Freedom to Innovate

We’ve talked about parallel innovation and disruptive innovation as inroads to creating change needed for 21st century education. Last week we highlighted an innovative chartered school located in the woods of Wisconsin as an inspiring example of creating change.

But one school does not change a system. How do we bring in new and different approaches to learning throughout the K-12 system?

Ted Kolderie, founder of the policy think tank Education|Evolving, and author of The Split Screen Strategy:  Improvement + Innovation, has made some profound observations. In my view as a former 18-year state senator, he is spot on when he says that new and different approaches to learning, and new models of school, will come from the bottom up, not from the top down. Why? Because (frustrated?) leaders in both the chartered and district sectors will fight for autonomy—the freedom to be the creative educational professionals they are.

According to Kolderie, the notion of the Split Screen Strategy is pretty simple. It doesn’t require new legislation. It is about creating a modest sector in K-12 education in which schools and teachers can try ideas outside the traditional “givens” in their search for what works with individual students.

In high-powered, innovative businesses like 3M and IBM, they have long offered autonomy to employee groups to create new innovations as a “skunk works.” That’s how 3M, for example, can project revenues in five and ten year plans from products and services that haven’t been invented yet. Skunk works allow the freedom for groups of company employees and allies to escape the home culture and “create” in a place where it doesn’t matter if “we’ve always done it this way.”

Can we create “skunk works” in the K-12 education system? We can. Check out Thursday’s blogpost.