We’re always encouraged when groups of states work together to identify and implement innovations that can be scaled nationwide to transform K-12 education. We’re even happier when K-12 funders take notice of the efforts—and throw their support behind them.
A case in point: the strong funder support behind the Innovation Lab Network (ILN). An alliance of 12 states, ILN operates under the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). ILN’s goal is to scale local innovations more broadly as a way of spurring system-level changes in public education. States involved in ILN include California, Oregon, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. Schools and districts within these states test new and innovative ways of meeting student needs, with support from their state education agencies.
Funders behind the ILN include the Nellie Mae Education Fund, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Stupski Foundation. The latter funder closed its doors in 2012, but a message on the funder’s website in the fall of 2014 indicated the organization plans to reorganize itself as a funding organization.
CCSSO facilitates collaboration and communication among states participating in ILN. Innovations by schools and districts in ILN states are ground in the following attributes:
- Fostering world-class knowledge and skills
- Student Agency
- Personalized learning
- Performance-based learning
- Anytime/anywhere opportunities
- Providing comprehensive systems of learner support
ILN’s work focuses on college readiness. Member states have developed a shared understanding of what it means to be college-ready, and their definition goes beyond high school grades and admission test scores to include the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and dispositions that impact student achievement and lifelong success. The work of Dr. David Conley and his Education Policy Improvement Center in Oregon, as well as the Hewlett Foundation’s definition of deeper learning, influence the work of ILN.
Three of the ILN states are in New England, the region on which Nellie Mae focuses its K-12 grantmaking activities. What’s more, ILN’s focus on personalized learning and comprehensive systems align with Nellie Mae’s interest in systemic changes that address student needs.
Hewlett is another key funder of ILN, and its deeper learning has influenced, at least in part, the work of the network. As conceptualized by Hewlett, deeper learning encompasses personalized learning, content mastery, and helping students keep pace with the changing demands of a global arena. Hewlett also champions collaborative work, and ILN is all about collaboration, both within and across participating states.
Mott’s K-12 funding is perhaps less narrow in its focus than that of Hewlett or Nellie Mae. ILN’s principle of anytime/anywhere learning opportunities may appeal to Mott, which is perhaps best known for its support of before- and after-school programs. It is not as well known for funding college readiness programs, but is no stranger to such work.
ILN stands as an example of how school districts can experiment with new approaches and collaborate with state agencies to scale them, with the potential of replication in other states participating in the network. Let’s hope that other such networks spring up in the K-12 landscape and that education funders open their checkbooks to help these networks—and the innovations flowing from them.