Innovation, not business as usual, will improve Kentucky public schools

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Education Commissioner Terry Holliday
Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

Positive change is underway in Kentucky’s public schools. But as the K-PREP scores released last week show us, we as educators are going to need to take even more dramatic steps if we are going to move our students and our schools forward.  

Small, incremental changes like block scheduling, computers in the classroom and a new curriculum are not going to be enough. Those are tools that can help us, but they, in and of themselves, are not going to produce the type of school transformation that is going to energize and engage Kentucky students and get them ready for college and career.

We need to think differently and creatively to make our schools successful. We need to be thinking in terms of big, systematic changes that include ideas such as personalized learning, performance-based assessment and authentic student voice.

Having met just last month with the Next-Generation Student Council, I can tell you students in our state are not short on innovative ideas on how to improve their schools. I also know from my school visits around the state that Kentucky teachers are true innovators, continually finding and trying new ways to make their classrooms more about learning, not just teaching. If schools and districts are serious about innovation, then these two groups – students and teachers – must be an integral part of the plan.  

School innovation is certainly a focus in Kentucky right now. Several weeks ago, I spoke at the Kentucky Leads the Nation’s (KLN) Creating a Culture of Innovation Summit. KLN is the initiative started by Leon Mooneyhan, Ph.D., director of the Ohio Valley Education Cooperative (OVEC), in partnership with the other regional cooperatives in Kentucky. The purpose of KLN is to engage school districts in conversations with policymakers about how to transform education in Kentucky and across the nation through innovation and technology.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) supports this effort as part of the state plan that resulted from the governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky task force.

During the summit, I and David Cook, director of KDE’s Division of Innovation and Community Engagement, spoke about several factors that are driving innovation in our schools.

One of those is House Bill 37, also known as “districts of innovation” legislation, which passed the 2012 session of the General Assembly thanks to the leadership of Rep. Carl Rollins.This new statute encourages schools and districts to rethink learning in order to engage and motivate students to reach college and career readiness.. And it provides flexibility from laws and regulations that might stand in the way. Districts should receive information on how they can apply to be a district of innovation this winter. Implementation will begin with the 2013-14 school year.

At the direction of the Kentucky Board of Education we’ve moved forward with creating a non-profit foundation to solicit grants and funding that will support innovation efforts in Kentucky.

Innovation in education is not new to our state. For several years, Kentucky has been working with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and eight other states as part of the  Innovation Lab Network. The coalition is focusing on personalized learning that can be delivered any time, anywhere. The idea is to start small with demonstration sites, learn what it takes to transform the teaching and learning process to produce more students who are college and career ready and then take what works and expand it to other schools and districts.

That’s the same idea behind another great partnership, the University of Kentucky School of Education’s P-20 Innovation Lab. The P-20 lab works directly with schools and districts in the state to create exciting topical “labs” focused on innovating for our collective educational future.

In addition, recently, Kentucky was one of two states selected to participate in the Global Education Leaders Program (GELP). This is an international effort to bring together strong leaders across the globe to share ideas on how to transform education.

There is much work going on in Kentucky with implementation of Unbridled Learning; however, we also are working hard to create new models of teaching and learning that will better prepare more students for the global competition they will face in their jobs and careers. We here at KDE do not have all the answers. Schools and districts need to work with their teachers, students and communities to identify and implement the innovative changes that will work for them. As you start imagining public education of the future, know that KDE is here to support educators and schools as they take on the take challenge of reinventing teaching and learning in Kentucky for the 21st century and beyond.

For more information about our innovation efforts, contact David Cook.

 

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