What does it take to make an innovative school?

[The Hechinger Report examines two recent developments to highlight the role of innovation in schools. The report outlines some of the key findings from a new report looking at Competency-based Learning in New England as well as the nineteen new members of the League of Innovative Schools. The Pittsburgh region is quite rich with innovative schools. Two are included in the latest group – the Fox Chapel Area School District (FCASD) and the Montour School District. I formerly worked as the Coordinator of Educational Technology at FCASD  and I’ve recently consulted with the Montour School District. Both districts offer great examples of innovative programming in order to meet the needs of all students. Both districts are developing their own versions of competency-based learning with great examples of active learning opportunities for students in K-12.]

transformED learning space at Montour HS - Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

transformED learning space at Montour HS – Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

One of the challenges in trying out new learning strategies, including those that embrace technology, is that schools have a tough time finding out which new methods work best – which ones actually help kids learn.

This week brought two useful resources for addressing that problem. One is an expansion of a coalition of schools that share best practices, called the League of Innovative Schools; the other is a comprehensive report on the ways that competency-based learning initiatives have grown in the six New England states

In competency-based learning systems (also sometimes called proficiency-based or mastery-based), the goal is to have students demonstrate their mastery of a subject before being moved on to the next level, rather than move ahead simply by accumulating enough time in class and passing the year-end test.

Even as high school graduation rates have risen, the number of students who need remedial classes once they enter college has also risen. The advocates at CompetencyWorks, a coalition set up to promote this method and assess best practices, argue that this is because students are not mastering what they need to know to prepare them for college or for the workforce.

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