Who’s for Innovation? School Boards!

Many educators and policymakers like to call themselves innovators and take bold verbal stands for change. That’s step one. But unfortunately, few ever get to the next step—implementation. Change is hard. It is especially difficult to change the status quo in K-12 public education.

But innovation can bubble up in districts as well as the charter sector. This is happening from some sources within districts where innovation might appear unlikely. We’ll identify a few in this and future blogposts.

Boards of Education

In the early years of chartering, a district superintendent told me, “I’ll never be able to bring change to this district until we have a charter school open across the street.”

My favorite story along these lines also comes from the origins, as recounted in my book, Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story. Prior to passage of the chartering law in Minnesota, parents in Forest Lake, a suburban school district north of the Twin Cities, requested a Montessori option for their children. The superintendent resisted, telling them the district did not have resources necessary for the special training of teachers, classroom equipment, or special transportation needs. Then in May of 1991, the chartering law passed the Minnesota legislature.

The Forest Lake parents immediately developed a Montessori proposal for a charter school, and earned support from a majority of the members of the Forest Lake School Board, which upon approval, could serve as authorizer for the charter school.

When the evening of the anticipated school board vote arrived, the superintendent chose to pre-empt the vote. He announced his proposal that the district establish its own Montessori school. Apparently, he found the necessary funding for the training, classroom equipment, and transportation needs. And a Montessori district option became reality.

In the end, these persistent parents received what they requested. It didn’t have to be a charter school. But the fact that chartering existed caused the school board—and eventually the superintendent—to become more responsive to their needs.

We’ve all seen the change that chartering has created in school districts across the country, bringing technology, advanced courses, and even longer school days to district schools.

Here’s an idea: let’s share innovations across the district and charter sectors!