We previously discussed an Indiana law which allows for the creation of new “innovation schools.” These are autonomous public schools contracted by the School Board to operate independently but as part of the school district. Recently, the first innovation school was approved and will open in the 2015-16 school year.
This development is exciting for a number of reasons, most significantly because of the promise it holds for improved student achievement. Research points to the benefits of autonomous schools in raising performance outcomes.
This is highlighted in Boston specifically in TNTP’s report, one of our partners in Springfield, which outlines four characteristics common across all high-performing schools:
1. Consistent learning environments
2. Regular and specific teacher feedback and development
3. Hiring of new staff early in the year
4. Performance-based opportunities for teachers
These traits are theoretically possible in any school environment; however, they are significantly enabled in an autonomous school where the culture and processes are established by the principal and facilitated within the building.
High-performing charter schools often demonstrate these traits and we are fortunate to have some of the best in the country in Massachusetts. As discussed in this Boston Globe article, there are ways to allow greater numbers of students access to these higher-performing schools. Increasing the number of charter schools and the number of students enrolled in charter schools could be one solution, but other options are to continue to expand learning time in the school day and with a longer school year, and grant schools more freedom over staffing and other budgetary decisions. Each of these elements is embraced in an Open System design, which allows districts to maximize student learning by focusing on school-level autonomies be they charter schools, traditional district schools, or district schools run by outside operators.