Monday, April 19, 2010

Having discovered this by means of a circuitous route (wave twitter, weblogged-ed, .pdf) I want to toss it out as if not required reading at least highly suggested reading.

Charles Leadbeater and Annika Wong have produced a seminal treatment of educational innovation whose citations and stats should inform any discussion which centers around the future of education. Breaking the options down to only four types, it's holding up quite nicely and inspiring me to think even more radically than I have done in the past.

It's a Cisco white paper called "Learning from the Extremes," and you can read the entire 40 page .pdf at

Time crunched? Want the Cliffnotes version? Will Richardson does a typically great job for you at

but like Will, I highly encourage you to go to the source for its case studies and descriptions of disruptive innovations that likely fall outside your usual media net. The timeline of how schools developed in the first place is by itself enough to warrant the effort.

While the report draws many of its examples from innovation in the developing world, it does address "the developed world" and its challenges. I'm going to print one section of this stunningly detailed report to give you a good taste of it. I hope that taste whets your appetite enough for you to investigate further:

The Developed World: Cracking the Code

For as long as there have been schools, there have been attempts to radically remake them. These efforts gathered pace in the 1960s in the United States and Europe— for example, through more childcentred education, the open-air school movement, and efforts to create more open plan schools, which felt more like communities and less like factories.3

Schools catering for children with special needs, often operating at the margins of the mainstream system, have pioneered more personalized approaches to learning—for example, using individualized timetables and one-to-one tutoring.38 Schools influenced by alternative pedagogies—Montessori and Steiner schools, liberal arts schools such as Dartington and Summerhill in the United Kingdom, and Big Picture schools in the United States and Australia—focus on creativity, social skills, and studentled learning. Schools in special circumstances, such as the Djarragun in Northern Queensland, which serves an isolated, indigenous community, organize learning around real-world, practical, problemsolving learning, which starts from questions the children want to answer. Learning in all these schools is more personalized and fluid, driven by questions rather than a rigid curriculum.

These experiments have tended to be the exception that proves the rule. However, in the past decade, more systematic efforts have been made to introduce disruptive innovation into schooling. In the United States, some charter schools have developed more creative and personalized approaches to learning. A prime example is the High Tech High network of schools, which offers a wide range of project-based approaches to creative learning. In Sweden, parents have been given the power to set up state-funded “free” schools by pooling the budgets allocated to their children.39 This has led to a wave of new, smaller schools being set up. Every child in the Kunskapsskolan chain of schools in Sweden has a personalized curriculum and a timetable assembled from different modules. Children are taught in groups according to the stage they have reached rather than the age they are. At the start of each of five terms, every child agrees on learning goals with their personal tutor and their parents. Kunskapsskolan’s 14 schools are housed in reused offices, hospitals, and stables; only one is in a dedicated school building. In the United Kingdom, new kinds of schools are being created by: academies, which are sponsored by a company and often specialize in a field such as media, arts, or business; schools created by groups of parents; Studio Schools, which are small schools in shopping centers, for children disaffected from standard school; and cooperative schools, which are owned by staff and the community. The spread of more personalized approaches to learning—tailoring how, when, and where children learn to their requirements—has transformed schools such as Cramlington Community College in Northumberland.

The Orstad Gymnasium in Hellerup, Denmark, has been designed so that there are not enough classrooms for lessons, thus forcing students and teachers to use many of the other informal learning spaces in the school, including the canteen, and so to learn in different ways. Schools all over the world are experimenting with virtual and distance learning environments.

Across the world, policymakers are starting to open up routes for new entrants to create new kinds of schools. In New Orleans, the city is remaking its education system based on commissioning services from a range of independent providers, thus giving it scope to continually stimulate the school system with new approaches.

As you can guess, there's much much more in the report, including a beautiful simple four panel grid called the "Education Innovation Grid." While it would be easy to paste that here, I'm going to up the ante to get you to go read the full report by refraining from posting it! Cheers!

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