University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Schools of Innovation

In The View from the OEP on April 17, 2013 at 12:12 pm

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It is an exciting time in for schools and students in Arkansas…

With the passage of Senate Bill 66 (now Act 601), the General Assembly has paved the way for Districts of Innovation. SB66 was filed by Senator Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock).

Senator Elliott described that the bill was designed for districts with a “brilliant idea” that “want to do things differently from what the rules say.”

Interested schools will apply to the Arkansas Department of Education to become a School of Innovation (more than one school in any district can apply). An applying school must create a plan that will increase academic performance by improving teaching and learning. To create the School of Innovation plan, the applying school must create a School Council of Innovation that is composed of teachers and classified employees (elected by the school), the principal (or an administrative appointee), parents, community members, at least two students, and other stakeholders. The School Council of Innovation is to lead the creation the School of Innovation plan. After the plan is created, a minimum of 60% of eligible employees in the school must vote to approve the plan.

The commissioner will determine if an applying school is accepted to become a School of Innovation.  By becoming a School of Innovation, a school will receive the necessary waivers from laws, rules, and local policies to implement an Innovation plan. A School of Innovation will be approved for up to 4 years and then can apply to be renewed every 4 years. The ADE will now create the governing rules that must  be approved by the State Board of Education. The governing rules will provide more specific details on the application and ongoing process.

The idea behind a School of Innovation is similar to the idea of District-Conversion charter schools. Currently, there are 14 District-Conversion charter schools. District-Conversion schools ares started and run by their local school district (unlike open-enrollment charter schools) but receive freedom from certain rules, regulations, and policies of the  traditional public school.

The ADE, with the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions, has opened the Office of Innovation. The Office of Innovation will research innovative practices in education to promote increased student achievement.

Districts of Innovation are found in other states across the United States:

  • The Boston Public School Districts established pilot schools in 1994, and currently, there are 21 pilot schools in the district. Pilot schools are granted autonomy over certain regulations and policies, so that the schools can increase academic performance. The National Bureau of Economic Research has conducted a study on Boston’s pilot and charter schools.
  • In Colorado, in 2008, the “Innovation Schools Act” was passed and allows schools or groups of schools can apply to be an Innovation School. As of the 2012-13 school year, there are 37 Innovation Schools. The Colorado Department of Education has information and a number of resources for Innovation Schools.
  • In the 2010-11 school year, the Houston Independent School District implemented a program, called Apollo 20, in 20 low-achieving schools. This program, in partner with Harvard University’s EdLabs, is seeking to mimic best practices from charter schools, including five main strategies: effective leadership and teachers, more instructional time, use of data to drive instruction, intense tutoring, and a culture of high expectations. Early results show increases in math scores and attendance rates, as well as a decrease in suspensions. The success in math is attributed in part to intensive tutoring that the students receive. We highlighted the model in a policy brief this past fall.
  • In 2012, Kentucky (a state without charter schools) passed a bill that allowed traditional public school districts to become Schools of Innovation. The bill will become law in the spring of 2013; but the Department of Education in Kentucky has already released the application draft for school districts to apply in 2013-14. Arkansas’ proposed bill is seemingly modeled after Kentucky’s bill; therefore, there is room to believe that Arkansas’ application will be similar to Kentucky’s application and rubric. Additionally, the Kentucky DOE has released a number of helpful resources for districts applying.

It is exciting to hear about the innovations occurring in schools districts across the United States; and so, we look forward to the future of Arkansas’ Schools of Innovation.

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UPDATE 2/19/14: For more details on schools of innovation, check out our blog post Schools of Innovation are Coming Arkansas’ Way Soon!

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