The theme of innovation pervaded this year’s NAIS annual conference. Keynote speeches looked toward a different future, some schools shared innovative projects, and more responded enthusiastically and expressed the desire to participate. Does this mean that significant numbers of independent schools are substantially changing their educational programs, or not? Brad Rathgeber thinks so. Kevin Ruth says, “not so fast.”
How would we know whether school innovation, speaking broadly, is a movement or a fad? How high will adoption peak, and then how far will it fall? One way is to track stories about school innovation. However, this dialogue seems insufficiently complex to allow one to understand the mechanics or results of innovation. Many reports of innovative practice feel similar. A singular leader invents a brilliant idea, an unknown number of teachers embrace it, and students are transformed by the experience. The focus of the presentation is usually on the idea itself, and the argument for effectiveness is often circular and unsubstantiated.
Another approach is to find quantitative studies. These take years to develop, but as we have seen with studies of youth and social media, the results can be extremely compelling. I am not aware of significant quantitative studies of program innovation in independent schools. Are you?
A third is to gather the wisdom of others. Many colleagues have worked in our schools for decades and may speak authoritatively about whether schools are substantially different from before. Speaking personally, I hear them say that schools have changed significantly on the surface but the core values have remained pretty much the same. Thinking more broadly, some scholars suggest that secondary education in the U.S. has not changed for decades.
I would love to hear about rigorous study of independent school innovation, quantitative reports of broad trends, or other useful information on this topic. Specific information about this innovation trend will surely help us facilitate the best of it within our schools.