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Asking Too Much Of Innovation

Gold I am convincing few if any of the innovationistas at the National Journal's education blog that, perhaps, we're asking too much of so-called "inovation."  After all, the question put forth to start the conversation (What's Needed To Make Sure Innovation Is Working?) presumes that innovation is fundamentally a good and right strategy for addressing education's woes.

But I'm having a grand time losing, and have enlisted Dana Goldstein's fascinating and timely article on the rise of innovation as a favorite (fetish?) of the Obama administration.  It's called The Innovation Administration

Don't think it's dry and boring or predictably progressive.  There's politics, romance, opportunity, and some surprisingly critical quotes from folks like Eric Nee and Vanessa Kirsch you might think would be unwaveringly enthusiastic. 


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I followed your link and a light went on. I never knew that the Harlem Children's Zone has a budget of $70 million. I don't have any idea what a fair per-student spending estimate would be because the HCZ does so much more than neighborhood schools. But the latest number in Inside Schools put the enrollment of its Promise Acadmey Charter School at 683. This is just a blunt way of guestimating but its another reality check for the innovationites.

When the heads of the Institute of Education Sciences and the Office of Innovation ask an open question about how to go about doing their jobs, and they get more answers than respondents (Some people responded more than once, without saying much each time) none of whom offer an implementable plan, that proves your point.

The Innovationites, the Reformites, the NeoLibs, and the NeoCons are joined at the hip in a Race to the Top with four pillars that the National Academy of Sciences warns are without scientific/technical foundation. Every state that competes voluntarily for an RttT grant is compelled to commit to implementing the pillars.

Meanwhile, under "No Child Left Behind" every public school and school district in the country will be designated "failing" before 2014.

How do we get dis-innovated?

Fascinating article. Dana Goldstein makes some very good points, but almost seems to make innovation out to be the villain. Our society has certainly been injected with the "innovation bug" since President Obama took office and why shouldn't it be?

This doesn't mean that all innovation is necessarily a good thing. As Dick brought up in his comments, "No Child Left Behind" is certainly a "failed" innovation. I feel that our education system needs a great deal of innovation but NCLB seems like a step backwards to me.

The world we live in is changing at such a rapid pace and the U.S. is being greatly effected by it. The question is, are we keeping up with the rest of the world using our old systems? I don't think so. Economics, politics, and social construct are very different today than they were even 10 years ago. The competition on the world stage is constantly growing stronger and I think we've seen the U.S. losing it's edge on the innovation sector. We've gotten comfortable and set in our ways from decades of prosperity. But, in the near future, China, Russia, and India could all surpass the economic and political power of the United States using new and innovative ideas and systems of economics and education. The idea behind innovation is not to copy systems being used by other countries, but find new ways of doing things to stay competitive.

I'm glad that innovation is being pushed today. Of course, not every innovative idea is going to be successful. But, we learn from our mistakes. Not every decision made by this country has worked out the way it was supposed to. Yet, we still live in this incredible country that I am so proud of. I think that it is innovation that has made this country so great. After all, in 1776, Democracy was an innovative idea.

Educators and other deliverers of social services in a federal system need to differentiate between true innovation and replication/ diversification. In many cases, ideas or practices that are not fundamentally new can nonetheless be valuable additions to a school system that are lacking them. The R2T innovation funds leans pretty strongly to replication/ diversification side of things, reserving only the smallest pot for true innovation. As for charter schools, they are pretty good at the replication/diversification, but not so much on true innovation. True innovation is risky and expensive, and most new charters are not in circumstances that permit such risk. And of course narrowly defining the nature of production (ala NCLB) will create some disincentives for innovation in other areas.

There are many forms of innovation, just as there are many winds of change. Yes, innovation for its own sake is empty...and can be damaging. Of course we need to be critical, and skeptical. But to think that our educational systems can get where they need to be without innovation or change is naive...and also damaging.

To take up Alex's point: I would argue that creating the checklist for doctors, which resulted in improved delivery of services, is a fundamental innovation in knowledge sharing. To pretend that it is not innovation, just because the items on the checklist were already known and tested, is a failure to appreciate the difficulty of sharing knowledge effectively. This is a prime dilemma in our schools, where teachers solve all kinds of challenges yet their innovations are rarely shared broadly.

The question is not whether an innovation is "true" (is there such a thing as a "true" or "untrue" innovation?). The question is what innovations do we need and embrace? Check out the inaugural Big Ideas Fest (http://www.bigideasfest.org/blog), where we'll be grappling with these challenges, and hopefully finding some bottom-up strategies.

good point, thad --

how do we tell the difference between lazy or empty talk about innovation and concrete and useful ideas that -- new or not -- could be spread easily and effectively?

how do we find the "checklists" for education and implement them as carefully as we come up with them?

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