I was thinking this morning--always a dangerous thing. So, let me set the back drop to my crazy idea. Yesterday I saw a tweet asking the question about research based education versus innovation and aren't they mutually exclusive. I've always agreed with that idea, but hadn't thought about if for awhile. So, one criticism I've seen lately in a few different places is that charter schools are not innovative enough; therefore, they shouldn't exit. On top of that legislation in many states requires charter school applications to demonstrate that their academic program is research based.
Given all of that, have we now put charter schools in a bind? In other words, we've said that charter schools are supposed to innovate, but we are also requiring them to have research based academic programs, which (almost by definition) means that they won't be any more innovative than what is being done in the public schools around them.
I can think of a couple of examples of non-research based programs that worked extremely well. Recently, I used The King's Speech as example for a blog. The movie is all about an incredible relationship that formed between the King of England and a commoner because that commoner dared to used "recognized" methods to cure the King's speech impediment. The method included using profanity as a way to get beyond the fear of speaking. It worked so well that the King defended his speech therapist in front of the Archbishop.
One of our true innovators recently passed away. His company now dominates the portable media market. Steve Jobs created an entire company based on untested ideas. He introduced products that many thought were ridiculous. The average people didn't want to deal with technology did they? Of course, at the time the only way to use computers was to program them yourself. Jobs ability to see a future in which technology could be manipulated easily was not research based.
Sometimes to get beyond mediocrity, we need to listen to those who are slightly eccentric. It's scary. It's not safe. It does require risk of failure. But when the alternative is guaranteed mediocrity and boring and meaningless instruction, why not spend some federal and state money to really innovate? It would make it tougher on authorizers--that's for sure. It may also increase the number of charter school failures. On the other hand, it's unlikely that any student will be so harmed as to be rendered helpless in society. We all know how helpless some students are in the current system. Companies continue, even in a bad economy, to say that they can't get competent workers.
If we expect charter schools to really innovate and not be reflections of their traditional public school counterparts, then we need to reflect on what it means to innovate and not regulate the academic program of charter schools so that the entire idea of innovative schools becomes an oxymoron.