Organizing Innovation in Education

Yesterday the Broad Foundation announced a $6,000,000 grant with which Harvard University economics professor Roland Fryer is creating EdLabs, a research and development agency to look systematically at innovation and incentives in education, particularly urban education. Fryer is especially interested in economic inequality, long believed to impact academic success and access (take for example the HeadStart program that began in 1965–a nice description here).

I like the approach of organizing and evaluating the pockets of educational innovation and of placing research staff on site. The Broads strike me as very creative and ingenious at making their philanthropy more effective, like the genetics research at the Broad Institute and even their approach of loaning their art collection to museums.

It’s my impression (as an educator and researcher myself) that educators strongly prefer to try their own new things rather than replicate others’ success. This may be an aspect of teacher-culture that will need to change in addition to providing any evidence that a particular approach works.

I believe humans learn continuously, but some may need incentives to learn or be interested in what the government, state, school, or business leaders want them to learn. I do think wisely spent cash could make their lives better in so many ways that will help them function in and finish school. I certainly hope EdLabs succeeds in making effective education more widely available. So much more than a diploma is at stake: health, self-sufficiency, self-esteem, the peace that comes from justice….

Here are some questions I would investigate further if I were in research or journalistic mode, but I’m just blogging, so I’ll hope readers post answers or links or something in the comment section: It’s interesting to me that this lab does not appear to be affiliated with Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. I wonder if there was some line of thought like: education as usual doesn’t seem to be working so let’s place it outside the usual arena; or probably more like: it’s all economics, silly. I wonder also why the Harvard location (not Columbia, not U of Chicago) without a Boston partner. Is there really so little innovation in Boston (just one partner has one school 15 miles from Harvard)?

Related post: Sept 19, 2007–

More re: what to do about educational prospects for rich and poor

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