How to Reinvent K-12 Education

How to Reinvent K-12 Education

“At districts, efforts to transform education should center on launching skunkworks programs,” according to Thomas Arnett, a senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute, writing in Education Next. “These will not be shiny new magnet schools. Rather, they will be virtual schools, alternative schools, hybrid homeschooling programs, or CTE programs. Their aim will be to develop new approaches for serving frontier students.

“Unfortunately, effective district leaders who are highly attuned to the priorities of their district’s overall value networks tend to focus their time and energy on conventional schools and treat their virtual, alternative, and CTE programs as mere stop-gaps.

“For districts to become vehicles for reinventing schooling, more leaders will need to adopt a dual transformation approach—maintaining and improving their conventional schools while simultaneously putting resources and energy into launching and evolving unconventional models of schooling. They also need to allow these models to scale as they attract more students and educators—potentially taking over wings of their conventional campuses—rather than capping their growth or trying to fold them into conventional schools.

“New models of schooling spring up in many states under the policies created for virtual schooling, alternative education, independent study, and career and technical education. Yet far too often, these policies keep unconventional schools tied to conventional practices—for example, by mandating on-site instructional minutes or requiring credit hours as the currency for gauging learning.

“Instead of dictating the resources schools must use and the processes they must follow, states should work with these new models of schooling to set quality standards aligned with the outcomes they aim to deliver for ‘frontier’ students. The freedoms afforded by education savings accounts (ESAs) present a way to encourage new value networks. To be clear, not all students using ESA dollars will be ‘frontier’ learners, and not all schools accepting ESA funding will break the conventional mold. But ESAs do create conditions where new models of schooling such as private microschools can emerge.

“For educators and parents frustrated with conventional schooling, it might be time to push your district to launch the kind of program described above. If that path proves untenable, you might be able to find what you’re looking for in a virtual charter school or regional alternative school. If neither of these paths offer worthwhile options, it might be time to join the private microschooling movement and appeal to your state to create an education savings account program to fund the private options you’re looking for.

“The schools of the future that American society has long sought are here today. They just live in niches and pockets at the edges of the K–12 landscape. For these schooling options to grow, evolve, and become compelling mainstream alternatives to conventional schooling, we need more administrators, policymakers, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, educators, and parents to escape the gravitational pull of conventional education and its value network. It’s time to establish the value networks that can foster new models of education.”

Education Next


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