Tag Archives: innovation

Reactions to the U.S. Education Innovation Index

One of the main goals of creating and publishing the U.S. Education Innovation Index Prototype and Report was to stimulate evidence-based conversations about innovation in the education sector and push the field to consider more sophisticated tools, methods, and practices. Since its release three weeks ago at the Digital Promise Innovation Clusters convening in Providence, the index has been met with an overwhelmingly positive reception.

I’m grateful for the many fruitful one-on-one conversations that have pushed my thinking, raised interesting questions, and provoked new ideas.

Here are a few takeaways on the report itself:

People love radar charts. And I’m one of those people. In the case of the innovation index, radar charts were a logical choice for visualizing nine dimensions and a total score. Here they are again in all their glory.

City Comparisons

Readers weren’t always clear on the intended audience or purpose. This concern came up often and hit close to home as someone who strives to produce work that is trusted, relevant, timely, and useful. One of the benefits of the prototype is that we can test the tool’s utility before expanding the scope of the project to more cities or an even more complicated theoretical framework. So far the primary audience for the index funders, policy makers, superintendents, education leaders, and city leaders have demonstrated interest in learning more about the thinking behind the index and how it can be applied to their work. Ultimately I hope it will influence high-stakes funding, policy, and strategic decisions.

The multidimensionality of innovation challenges assumptions. When I explain that we measured the innovativeness of education sectors in four cities New Orleans, San Francisco, Indianapolis, and Kansas City, MO inevitably, the next question I get is “how do they rank?” Instead of answering, I ask my conversant for his/her rankings. I’ve had this exchange dozens of times, and in almost every case, New Orleans topped the list because of the unique charter school environment. When I then explain that the index was sector agnostic it doesn’t give preference to charter, district, or private schools people immediately reconsider and put San Francisco in the number one slot. What this tells me is that many people associate innovation with one approach rather than treating it as the multidimensional concept that it is. This misperception has real policy and practice implications, and I hope the index provides nuance to the thinking of decision makers.

Dynamism” and “district deviance” are intriguing but need more research. Two of the measures that I’m most excited about are also ones that have invited scrutiny and criticism: dynamism and district deviance. Dynamism is the entry and exit of schools, nonprofits, and businesses from a city’s education landscape. Too much dynamism can destabilize communities and economies. Too little can keep underperforming organizations operating at the expense of new and potentially better ones. In the private sector, healthy turnover rates are between five and 20 percent, depending on the industry. We don’t know what that number is for education yet, but it’s likely on the low end of the range. More research is needed. Our district deviance measure assumes that districts that spend their money differently compared to their peers and are trying new things, which is good. It’s a novel approach, but its accuracy is vulnerable if the assumptions don’t pan out. Again more research is needed.

Measure more cities! Everyone wants to see more cities measured with the index for one of two reasons. The first is that they want to know how their city is doing on our nine dimensions. The second is that they want to compare cities to each other. Both make my heart sing. Knowing how a specific city measures up is the first step to improving it. Knowing how it compares to others is the first step to facilitate knowledge transfer and innovation diffusion.
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What a Cluster! Dispatch from #EdClusters16

WaterFire - Providence, RI

via http://waterfire.org/

Last week, Digital Promise, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating innovation in education, hosted its fourth convening of Education Innovation Clusters in Providence, Rhode Island (#EdClusters16).

According to Digital Promise, “Education Innovation Clusters are local communities of practice that bring together educators, entrepreneurs, funders, researchers, and other community stakeholders (families, local government, non-profits) to support innovative teaching and learning in their region. By working together, these partners form a network that is uniquely positioned to design, launch, iterate on, and disseminate breakthrough learning practices and tools.”

The goal of the convening was to share best practices and address common challenges among clusters. One of those challenges is research and measurement of innovation efforts so I was there to share our recently released U.S. Education Innovation Index Prototype and Report (USEII).

I gave the whole presentation with my eyes closed (false) & there was more than one person listening (true!). Photo credit: @johnbaldo.

I was thrilled to be invited because there are only a handful of people in the education sector who are diligently working to push the envelope of schools. This group of entrepreneurs, funders, school leaders, and accelerator leaders were refreshingly aware of the current everyday realities of students, teachers, and principals, but thinking five to ten years into the future.

There was another reason that I was excited about joining this convening. Clusters are prototypical innovation-supporting institutions, structures that specifically aim to increase and improve innovation activities. The clusters facilitate social connections, help practitioners solve problems, and serve as hubs for the diffusion of new ideas. Because of this research-backed lesson, cities that are part of one of Digital Promise’s innovation clusters score higher on the USEII than those that don’t. Convenings of cluster leaders like this one create a superstructure for the diffusion of knowledge within and between clusters. It’s one thing to research networks like this, it’s quite another to be swept up in the debate, discussion, and energy for education innovation.

Here are a few observations on the convening and what it signals for education innovation: Continue reading

Clinton Has a Platform for K-12 Education Innovation, She Just Doesn’t Know It Yet.

Read more live coverage of #EDlection2016 via Bellwether and The 74’s Convention Live Blog.

Last month, Hillary Clinton laid out an initiative on technology and innovation at Galvanize, a nationally-recognized technology incubator in Denver. The proposals are wide-ranging, from talent to cyber security and, surprisingly, may include what’s perhaps her most detailed K-12 plan around STEM education.

The slate of proposals is impressive and it includes ideas that will keep many sectors competitive domestically and globally. But for some reason, many of the strategies that Clinton proposes for transforming manufacturing, transportation, energy, and healthcare don’t explicitly apply to the education sector.

Instead, Clinton’s platform positions the education sector as a means to an end, preparing a knowledgeable workforce that will advance other sectors but the sector is not recognized as one that would benefit from serious innovation efforts that others enjoy.

Photo from BMACHI

Photo from BMACHI

This perception is indicative of how most people, even reformers, perceive the education sector. Perhaps it’s because the U.S. education system is so localized, because people and lessons from the private sector are suspect, or because there isn’t a lot of exposure to successful and responsible innovation efforts.  Whatever the reason, this perception is keeping the education sector from evolving and improving.

Our country’s worst performing schools and chronically under-performing districts do their best to make incremental improvements, because the K-12 education sector in America lacks the kind of robust public and private infrastructure to take on serious innovation.

For all of the rhetoric about staying competitive with Singapore and Finland, scant attention is given to the role that innovation can play in making that happen. Research, development, and innovation-friendly policies are critical in keeping other sectors competitive. Why shouldn’t that be true for education?

While the context may differ, the concepts that drive innovation in other sectors can and should apply to the education sector. Clinton’s campaign could fill its vacuous K-12 education platform with ideas it already has in its innovation and technology platform.

Here are a few of her own strategies that Clinton should apply to education.

Increase Access to Capital for Growth-Oriented Small Businesses and Start-Ups, with a Focus on Minority, Women, and Young Entrepreneurs

There’s a lot in Clinton’s technology proposal incubator creation, student loan deferral for entrepreneurs, and global recruiting for STEM professionals and entrepreneurs — all of which have applications in education. Tom Vander Ark of Getting Smart and David Fu of 4.0 Schools  make the case that intermediaries like incubators, accelerators, and funders are key to making an education ecosystem thriving and dynamic. My own project underway at Bellwether to measure the level of innovation in education ecosystems supports this notion. Clinton’s announcement at Galvanize signals their importance. When combined with strategies to recruit entrepreneurs, startup assistance for organizations that launch new school models, programs, and products can get a city or state’s innovation flywheel spinning.

Invest in Science and Technology R&D and Make Tech Transfer Easier

According to the Clinton campaign’s brief, “Hillary believes the benefits of government investment in research and development (R&D) are profound and irrefutable.” Yet her commitment to R&D doesn’t extend to the education sector. Right now, the U.S. invests only around three percent of its federal education budget on R&D, and the trends don’t look like that’ll change any time soon. The R&D obligations for the federal Department of Education have been decreasing steadily since 2006. The DOE’s Office of Innovation and Improvement’s 2017 budget is down 17 percent from 2016 compared to a department-wide reduction of just 0.32 percent. Closing the opportunity gap has proven more difficult than putting a man on the moon, so perhaps our investments in innovation should match the enormity of the challenges educators face.

Ensure Benefits are Flexible, Portable, and Comprehensive as Work Changes

In a recent blog post, my colleague Max Marchitello points out that most teacher pension plans restrict the mobility and savings potential of teachers, and Clinton’s proposal to create flexible, portable, and comprehensive benefits to workers should apply to the second largest workforce in America.

“The teacher workforce like nearly every labor force in America has evolved considerably. No longer are teachers educators for life, nor do they live in a single state decade after decade. Teachers are mobile. They enter and exit the workforce at different points in their lives. Nevertheless, teacher pension systems have persisted for more than a century with more or less the same structure. By increasing flexibility and portability for teacher retirement benefits, we can ensure that teachers don’t have to choose between working with kids and earning a healthy start on retirement saving.”

Reduce Barriers to Entry and Promote Healthy Competition

One of the more interesting, powerful, and likely controversial ideas for increasing innovation in the education sector is to make sure entrepreneurs don’t have to overcome bureaucratic obstacles to implement new ideas. The brief states that,

“Hillary will challenge state and local governments to identify, review, and reform legal and regulatory obligations that protect legacy incumbents against new innovators. Examples include state regulations governing automotive dealers that stifle innovation and restrict market access, or local rules governing utility-pole access that restrain additional fiber and small cell broadband deployment.”

A classic example of this happening in the education sector is when school districts (legacy incumbents) make access to facilities for charter schools difficult or impossible to prevent their openings or expansions. So many policies and special interests exist specifically to protect legacy incumbents that pursuing this with seriousness would shake up the K-12 education space considerably.

Open up More Government Data for Public Uses

Data is essential for good decision-making, but accessing and analyzing government data in the education sector is often a dreadful experience, a topic about which I’ve recently written. Opening up more government data for public use is important, but the federal government can also use its heft to collect and analyze complicated quantitative data. A recent report on K-12 labor productivity by the Bureau of Labor Statistics signals that this may occur more in the future. Clinton could take a more aggressive stance and require states to conform to specific data reporting standards and timelines.

When ESSA is shifting power to states, quarterbacking innovation efforts would be a way for the federal government to extend their influence beyond policing states accountability systems. And, the U.S. Department of Education already has an office to do it.

The DOE’s Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) is a natural home for these activities, but a mindset shift would be required there to make them happen. It would have to focus more on creating and executing on policies that create the conditions for others to implement new ideas instead of funding programs with very specific aims. Their Investing in Innovation (I3) grant competition, Race to the Top District, and credit enhancement service for charter school facilities are example of steps in the right direction.

Realizing the vision to make the U.S. education system equitable and excellent will require new ideas and new ideas happen through innovation activities. Other industries have made innovation a central strategy to stay competitive and there are many lessons that can inform the education sector. If Clinton should become president and wants to modernize the federal role in K-12 education, she’d benefit from looking at her own proposals for other sectors for a path forward.

Are Bad Online Charter Schools the Canary in the Coal Mine?

Online charter schools are getting a lot of bad press recently. While their critics cheer the bad news, we might consider whether this actually signals broader problems within public education. The persistent failures of these schools aren’t just failures in accountability — they could point to larger ills in the education ecosystem.

Here are just three state-level online charter school stories from the past few weeks:

  • Canari_jaune_lipochrome_intensifK12 Inc.*, which manages a network of online schools enrolling 13,000 students in California, will pay $8.5 million to the state and forgo $160 million to settle claims it misrepresented student achievement, financial records, and more. Organizational finances and governance are also under scrutiny.
  • In Aurora, Colorado, the local school board attempted to end the district’s relationship with HOPE Online Learning Centers due to persistently low achievement, but the district was overruled by the state because “we have to give these parents options,” and “now’s not the right time” for accountability.
  • Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which enrolls 15,000 Ohio students and ranks among the worst performing schools in the state, lost a recent attempt in court to stop a state audit of their actual online attendance last year. The audit will check if student learning hours match up to what ECOT billed the state.

Add these stories to the results of a recent CREDO study, which found overwhelmingly negative learning effects in online charters the opposite of positive learning trends in charters overall. Even charter advocates know something has gone very wrong in the world of online charters: a “National Call to Action” from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and 50CAN called out “well-documented, disturbingly low performance by too many full-time virtual public charter schools.”

Almost everyone agrees that authorizers and regulators should do a better job holding virtual schools accountable for results and protecting taxpayer funds from fraud and mismanagement. But when schools of choice with bad learning outcomes continue to grow, they are a canary in the coal mine, alerting us that things have gone awry in the school system as a whole: Continue reading

The First BLS Study of Labor Productivity in K-12 Education & Why It’s Important

chart

Collecting macroeconomic data in the education sector is currently a dreadful experience.

For example, my team and I recently calculated the number of traditional, charter, and private schools opened and closed in four major U.S. cities during a specific period of time to show whether poor-performing schools are closing and new schools are opening to serve students. It was oddly difficult to know with certainty how many schools opened and closed in each city, to say nothing of gathering more sophisticated data such as annual expansions and contractions in enrollment and the labor force.

So I was thrilled to see the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) aiming their analytic heft at the education sector with a report released last month entitled “Labor productivity growth in elementary and secondary school services: 1989–2012.” According to the report, “Labor productivity is a statistical measure that relates an industry’s output of services to the quantity of labor required to produce those services.” In other words, it answers the question of whether the juice is worth the squeeze.

In this case, we’re talking about teachers and other school employees in K-12 public and private schools, such as librarians, guidance counselors, administrators, and student support staff. Inputs are measured using a combination of number of full-time equivalent employees and cost from salaries and benefits. Outputs are measured using a combination of enrollment (volume) and NAEP scores (quality).

Productivity data are important because they tell us how efficiently we are delivering education services. When combined with data on demographic shifts and practice and policy reforms, especially related to teacher preparation and hiring, we can see what’s working and at what expense.

The biggest finding is that even though inputs and outputs have both increased steadily, labor productivity has declined by 0.2 percent per year, on average, since 1989. What you see in the chart above is that productivity declines when inputs score higher on the index than outputs.

The report provokes many questions for me. Does the decline in productivity map to major education policies at the federal or state level? What’s the influence of broader economic trends on the K-12 labor force? Why didn’t  private schools shrink their workforce at a rate commensurate to their enrollment decline?

The findings are interesting, and I plan to keep digging into them, but the more important message from the BLS is that they’re starting to aim their analytic expertise to the education sector, which they’ve all but ignored to this point. The report states, “The new measures reflect BLS commitment to expand its coverage of service industries, including those industries for which developing reliable series presents a significant challenge.”

Macroeconomic data like these are becoming more and more important for the U.S. education sector, especially in cities where charter school market share is on the rise, private schools educate a significant proportion of students, and districts enter into charter-like contracts with their schools. Understanding the market and labor dynamics within a city’s schools is critical to understanding what’s working, what regulations need to be in place, and which areas to target for improvement.

The private sector benefits from robust government reporting such as the BLS’s Business Employment Dynamics and U.S. Census Bureau’s Business Dynamics Statistics programs which collect, organize, and analyze critical market dynamic data. Education sector leaders will need similar data sets in order to make informed decisions. To do that, the BLS and other government agencies will have to collect and report data that can be further disaggregated by school type (district, charter, private, homeschool) and location (city, metropolitan statistical area, state).

If the labor productivity report is any indicator, they’re on the right path.