Friday, August 21, 2009

Innovation based on what works? Yes, please.

by Guest Blogger, Candice DePrang

Under the leadership of State Superintendent Steve Paine, West Virginia will compete in Race to the Top, the Department of Education’s competitive grant program initiating change in some states, and rewarding change in others. At the center of this debate for change is the charter schools cap, with Duncan advocating for the development of more high quality charters around the nation.

West Virginia neither prevents the creation of nor allows for the existence of charter schools, one sign of reform states must detail in their applications for funding. Despite the federal criterion, charter school research shows varying results across the United States, and West Virginia is looking for what works – an idea lost in the debate between traditional public schools and charters.

The debate misguides participants and listeners alike: traditional public schools and charters are both failing and succeeding. Neither is not in need of improvement and innovation. And instead of stepping into that debate, Paine aims to answer the real question: what works?

So, "it has to be research-based," he said. "It has to be tried and tested." Paine intends to fund innovation zones, schools that capture the spirit of charters, to innovate and try out new ideas based on research. West Virginia is looking for new teaching methods, ways to reward educators, and is looking to unions for models to “learn from”.

Using research-based knowledge to innovate is essential to increasing student achievement and closing achievement gaps, and Paine is making it a central organizing concept for education reform.

With school boards willing to waive rules to allow for the changes, ten schools could be picked as soon as February. Just in time for the second wave of Race to the Top awards.

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