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NUTSHELL_Dreaming_DemoRepJust attended my first session at SXSWedu here in Austin: “Vote for Education!  Or Don’t?” with fellow blogger Andy Rotherham (www.eduwonk.com), among others.  Now, what am I doing attending a policy forum when my focus is on innovations in learning?  Am I off task?  I dare say I’m not.  And here’s why.  Every election year or so we hear politicians turn up the dial on edu-speak.  Right now, Common Core (as a standards & curricular innovation, some might argue) is the political football du jour.  As I just heard from this policy-oriented panel, education becomes the public touchstone issue for waging larger, mostly wildly unrelated political differences.  When folks are elected and governing begins, that’s when the groundwork is laid for new policies: it’s when the innovation rubber meets the road.

When we think of innovation, we may think of phrases like “out of the box” or “out of our comfort zone” or “stretching the boundaries.” That’s all well and good and often valid.  But the interesting argument made today was that in the realm of policy, as context for ed reform and innovation, success tends to happen “from the center”, e.g., when Clinton pushed Bush 41’s “Goals 2000” across the finish line and Bush 43 and Ted Kennedy shook hands on NCLB.  At the time, these were areas in which there was bipartisan agreement as well as enough public appetite for new policy and hence, related resource allocation.  Another theory posited was that policy change in education is more often possible when it flies “under the radar” rather than when it is perceived to be a signature of one party or a specific politician.  Folks may consider “Race to the Top” to have been an ambitious policy move to encourage state (and then district) innovations.  But has the degree to which it has been linked to one party and one administration made it less effective for driving innovation?  The jury’s still out.

Good learning opportunities often generate more questions than they do answers.  For me, I’m left wondering if we must consider innovations in learning to be “both/and.”  That is, they both push the boundaries and generate new, better, and/or more efficient ways to accelerate and personalize learning and they may flourish best in contexts that are moderate and driven by consensus.

What do you think?

-Allison

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