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Encouraging Innovation in Our Schools: The Nation's Governors Step Up for Education

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia
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The nation's governors, who met in Washington, DC, in February, voiced their support for educating our students for a globally competitive world. Here's what the recent National Governors Association newsletter reported.

"A central focus of the meeting was NGA chair and Arizona governor Janet Napolitano's Innovation America initiative. A recent survey conducted for the NGA found most Americans believe the nation's governors should lead the way in encouraging innovation in our schools and the economy.

"Governors welcome the charge, but they also recognize they face a great challenge in preparing students and workers for increasing globalization and international competition. During the meeting, governors focused on enhancing our competitive capacity by strengthening science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, making worker training more flexible and applicable to regional needs, and creating incentives to encourage states to develop regional hubs that build on existing strengths.

"Governors concluded the meeting by reaffirming their commitment to creating highly skilled students and workers, higher-paying jobs, and a more vibrant economy."

The Innovation America initiative talks about increasing student proficiency in STEM. We've been hearing that for some time. But then it goes on to say something about "modernizing the teaching force, benchmarking academic standards, and aligning assessments and creating new models for math and science education."

As part of this initiative, the NGA has assembled a bipartisan task force made up of governors, business leaders, and university presidents. (What! No K-12 education teachers, administrators, researchers, students?) If you were on this task force,

  • how would you envision a modern teaching force?
  • what would twenty-first-century STEM teaching and learning look like?
  • what would you say?
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Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

Comments (11) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Fred Mocking's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

STEM activities are logistics intensive. In Industry, Engineers and Scientists have a technical support staff or organization. But these "improvers" apparently believe that teachers are superior to Scientists and Engineers and do NOT NEED a support staff. I have been functioning as a teacher support resource for teaching Science and Math as a volunteer. This activity is logistics intensive and requires a lot of my time. But the "improvers" know much better. They thus guarentee that major improvements will continue to be blocked for a long time to come.

Lynn Baum's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that classroom teaching needs to go from a teacher standing in front of a room of 25 kids to a teams of educators who are teaching and learning alongside their students. I think this is required in order to have the materials-intensive labs and projects that are necessary to really understand STEM content.
I think the way to do this is to make much more use of high school and undergraduate students. I think that you really find out what you know when you have to teach it - so I think for high school kids to work in lower grade classrooms and for undergraduates to work with high school teens would give everyone some opportunity to learn and teach these important subjects. I think that curriculum for all high school students should include more of the apprentice/service-learning model. And this would allow the teacher to handle the logistics of a class working with lots of materials in small groups.

Lavinia Kumar's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Tthe NGA report and the Rising Above The Gathering Storm report and others often miss critical resources and/or comments. For instance the "Storm" report omitted the great need for college teaching to improve. NGA wants innovation, but Achieve's American Diploma Project wants us to move back to a 60's post-sputnik era of science.

Modern teaching force?: trained in many technologies (ipods, online data, simulations and so forth), use of data everywhere, multiculturalism in teaching and learning, many kinds and uses of assessments and learning methods, and on and on. The bachelor's degree should be in the content. A master's degree should be the gateway to teaching, and include clinical work. Separate Ementoring in at two areas (content and classroom management skills) should follow the novice for at least 3 years. Teachers should be trained as most professionals are trained. They must be trained and allowed to think and to risk.

21st STEM teaching and learning?: Include both project and problem based learning, real data sources, applied content (built on industries in a state, for instance), build on what people know (start with foodstuffs rather than invisible atoms and electrons), keep firmly in mind what society needs as future workers and thinkers, cross-content, and very rigorous.

What would I say?: Too often people talk, create policies, and not much gets done. Policy-makers, adminstrators, teachers and many adults don't treat education as integral to (not only essential to) the society. Money, ideas and new (or retreaded old) are cast about. A perfomance-based model is essential for all areas of the tetaching/learning process.

Diane McGrath's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

#3: What would I say?

Governors, business leaders, and university presidents may be able to advise us educators on *what* students need to know, but such a commission must have the input of teachers and teacher educators. Educators know a lot about how to teach our kids, about what works and what doesn't. If teachers didn't have to spend their time and energy preparing their students for high stakes assessments, they could actually spend more time teaching for understanding and application.

I fear that such a commission will come up with more standards and multiple choice tests, because that has been the trend. They obviously won't propose more money to be spent on assessment so that a variety of assessments, and appropriate assessments, might be possible!

John Stallcup/APREMAT's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The modern teaching force would be experts in effective classroom practice first, spend far more time out of the classroom improving their classroom practice and be far more knowledgeable in at least one key content area (math, reading, science). They would also work the same number of days per year as a nurse and be paid on par with engineers. 180 six hour days of classroom time is insufficient for the twenty first century. Teachers would understand and be committed to using tools that can be employed outside the classroom at home, in public libraries or in after school programs that improve students academic performance. The teachers would encourage and enable students to spend time outside of the classroom employing effective online tools to increase their level of academic and artistic achievement.

STEM would employ the existing and developing web based tools to create "force multipliers" that allow teacher's scarce and valuable time to be spent in areas of instruction not able to be done by "smart" software and improving their classroom practice. Unfortunately the existing excellent online programs for reading and math are ignored (,, etal) or unknown to the present body of educators. If you benchmark the world's most effective education systems they are doing a good job of integrating everything from basic tools (the abacus in China) to modern online programs ( The state of California discourages the use of online programs because the content can be changed quickly. The support staff of the future is online.

Given the new Algebra is Calculus STEM means a significant increase in the level of academic achievement for the vast majority of students. Bill Gates claims he won't hire our high school graduates and then he spends his money trying to fix the present high school system. To quote Bill Gates "That is Random". If you don't "fix" early elementary education in math you will never achieve the objectives of STEM.

David Marshak's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The nation's governors have never held an "education summit" to which they have invited educators.

1989. 1996. The new one.

This is one reason why they are so pitifully wrong about so much when it comes to education.

And when they have these bi-partisan commissions ala "Beyond NCLB," they usually have one single teacher on the body.

Bob Kawka's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Last year I tried to suggest to our state supt. in California to hold a conference with a few of our state's teachers (less than 20) representing various sections of CA. He turned me down, saying that the state would offer assistance but no money to do it. He also turned down a suggestion that would save schools millions of dollars in textbook costs.

I have long been an advocate of talking to the "front line" teachers for feed back. As an example, in a recent survey of 40 Interns I supervise, they indicated that they needed district level support for classroom management techniques, lesson planning guidance and planning time with other subject/grade level staff. Your writer has pointed out the obvious, the people appointed to these commissions are almost always not in the classroom and have been out of it for so long that they have lost sight of what is needed...just look at our state school board with only 3 teachers on it and the rest are political appointees.

I would be willing to help organize a summit of teachers, provided we have funding, and to develop a real needs assessment instead of presenting a viewpoint that often is based on somebody's power trip and very little practical knowledge to the feds. and state powers. Perhaps Edutopia might help with the funing...? This way teachers could have a real voice based on real facts from the real front lines of the educational community. Think about it.

Walt Heinecke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Once again, the policy makers have it wrong. How can you gather policymakers to discuss innovation in education without teachers and their professional associations? This is the same mistake made ny NCEE, and NCLB designers. Education is not soley about preparation for the workplace o9r global cometitoon. We also want to promote life long learning, the development of active citizens and public service, caring human beings, and democratic critical thinkers. First order of business is to expand the scope of participation and include teachers and their professional associations such as NCTM, NCEE, NCSS, NSTA, and their teacher education counterparts, etc. These are the standards that should form the basis for benchmarks.

There is an excellent blueprint for educational innovation and it has been around since 2001. It is called How People Learn by Bransfrord, Brown & Cocking (National Research Council, 2001). Policymakers have been ignoring it for years. If I were on this taskforce I would focus the taskforce on this volume and use it as a guide for developing policies. First policy would be the development of a National How People Learn Innovation Center with a budget and staff. I would charge them with coordinating inititatives at all levels of the educational system to change teaching and learning and schools in the direction of the HPL framework. Teachers would be trained in learner-centered, content-centered, assessment-centered, and commuity-centered appraches. They would be trained in content-specific methods of technology-enhanced instruction. Teachers would be trained to use technology to teach in ways that they could not without the technology. Teachers would be professionalized and would work an extra month to learn and apply new HPL and technology-enhanced approaches. They would be trained in teacher education programs that focus on pedagogical content knowledge, technology and digital-video enhanced micro-teaching approaches. They would be trained in collaborative professional development strategies such as the 2+2 (Allen & Allen, 2005) model.

The Task force would direct the new center to develop a small set of HPL New American Design Schools and these schools would be released from the regressive NCLB/State accountability policy strictures that are constraining innovation. These schools would be led by principals versed in the Learner-Centered Leadership model (Danzig et al, 2007). They would be free from NCLB and state accountability testing requirements. They would focus on real-world, problem-based learning and would be assessed with a combination of traditional assessments, performance-based assessments, and portfolio-based assessments. These schools would have access to adequate technology and support. New professional development models in which teachers supported each other wouldbe implemented. One would then backward map policies to support these types of schools.

Teachers would receive inservice professional development using innovative models and approaches specified by national content-area professional associations (e.g., NCSS, NCTM, NSTA, ect.)

Bonnie Bracey Sutton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am grateful that there are many people thinking about the knowledgenetwork. I remember a project called Kidsnetwork. I wonder if that can be redone and be problem based using the
new areas of study. I say this because we know that time is a factor and the Kidsnetwork was integrated curriculum, that used technology as a tool, but also as a connector to a mentor, a scientist, and it linked communities in various localities and countries. It was one of the best learning experiences. There were many components of the things we talk about.

I was priviledged , on the other hand to work with some of the businessmen , the politicians, the
movers and shakers in Washington, for a special project. They don't seem to think much about teachers , nor invite their comment, input or experience.

I think about the many teachers who have left the job because of various and sundry reasons, and see those people as a resource too.

I always think too about those who have dedicated their lives to teaching to see that most of the new initiatives go to the very new teachers, and those with less credentials and experience. Some of us stick and stay anyway in spite of the politics and policies in teaching.

Perhaps there will come a time when the teachers in the classroom are a part of the conversation.


SinnerG's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Inquiry and imagination in the arts builds capacity for innovation in STEM. Training in arts skills develops creativity. The arts and sciences belong together; separating them is like separating heart and mind. For a radical new story of education, consider reading Stephanie Pace Marshall's, "The Power To Transform: Leadership That Brings Learning and Schooling to Life" (2006) Jossey-Bass.

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