Innovation Districts in Ohio

Innovation is not simply invention; it is inventiveness put to use. Invention without innovation is a pastime.

– Harold Evans – the London Sunday Times
Governor Kasich’s Straight A Fund which will allocate $300 for Innovation Grants for Schools is a gift with remarkable potential but few educators realize it. This idea of an innovation fund has been brewing in the philanthropic sector for the past seven years, and now there is an opportunity to turn that idea to reality. In addition to making grants, foundations seek to stimulate cross-sector collaborations and mobilize stakeholders to create shared solutions. Seeing tremendous challenges in Ohio’s education sector, foundations from across the State collaborated through the Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF) to consider what real innovation could look like for the State. Basing its analysis on successful projects funded in classrooms from across the country, OGF published documents in 2006, 2009 and in 2013.
In 2006, Education for Ohio’s Future challenged legislators to “Accelerate Innovations and Options throughout the System.” We said, “Schools, new and old, should reflect current research that supports high-quality and relevant curriculum, expanded forms of autonomy, the development of regional schools, the infusion of technology, a longer school day and school year, and accelerated options for combined high school and college coursework.” In 2009, Beyond Tinkering – called for “Creating Ohio Innovation Zones and an Incentive Fund” and to “Seed transformative educational innovation by attracting and building on promising school and instructional models; introduce district-wide innovations that personalize and deepen teaching and learning; and eliminate operational and regulatory barriers.” In the 2011-2012 biennial budget, the Ohio legislature allowed for “Innovation Schools” and “Innovation School Zones” (3302.6 – Designation as an innovation school) that could waive any collective bargaining agreement that would impede implementation of an innovation plan. A caveat was thrown in that would activate the waiver only if 60% of the members of the bargaining unit in each participating school approved the waiver. What a way to kill innovation! Few superintendents took up the challenge due to the cumbersome language and the lack of understanding of what is available on the market and how real innovation can take place within this ossified bureaucracy. For too many, innovation still means a Smartboard™. The recent 2013 OGF report states, “Technology that is overlaid on an antiquated model of schooling only increases the costs – the model must be recreated. “
In the May 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review, Stacey Childress of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wrote that, …”increasing the quality of K-12 Public education is vital to long-term economic growth. The U.S. educational sector has ignored technological advancements that have brought dramatic productivity gains to almost all other sectors and needs to introduce smart, personalized-learning programs into the curriculum.”
The Innovation Grants Fund is a remarkable step toward transforming teaching and learning. Effective use of these grants has the potential to change our centralized “educational system,” into “system for education” that can be more flexible to the demand for personalized learning. To support the Grants superintendents and especially school board members must provide teaching professionals culture of inventiveness in order to bring success in learning to scale. For too long we have supported an evaluation system that appears have been designed to create future game-show contestants rather than learners. Placing the power of innovation into the hands of capable teaching professionals will produce assessments that reflect a child’s true understanding of material. State-of-the-art management tools that increase productivity in the private sector should be available in schools and encouraged to demonstrate scalable cost savings.
Real innovation will be accelerated when the State makes use of the same technologies to update its irrational and wasteful system of professional development. This will not be accomplished by pouring more money into traditional education schools but taking cues from online options That mission can be enhanced when Cleveland makes much better use of its television and media to spotlight what works in education.
Philanthropy has funded successful inventions in classrooms and buildings across the country. Only with the collaboration of the government can successful classroom inventions turn into innovations that will benefit all children. Mr. Kasich has provided educational leadership the opportunity for inventiveness not seen before. Let’s figure out ways to make it happen.