Chartered Public Schools – Centers of Innovation?

The underlying concept of chartered public schools was and still is unleashing education from the conventions (laws, rules and regulations) that inhibit education from being innovative. Minnesota’s charter school law laid out the areas that legislators expect chartered public schools to be innovative – new learning opportunities for students, teaching methods, ways of measuring outcomes, forms of accountability, and professional opportunities for teachers.

The charge from the legislature was that chartered public schools would be centers of innovation for public education. To be a center of innovation requires that the school have a culture conducive to innovation.

In the January/February 2019 issue of the Harvard Business Review there is a great article entitled “The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures”. In the article the author outlines five truths/characteristics about true innovative cultures. 1] Tolerance for Failure but No Tolerance for Incompetence. 2] Willingness to Experiment but Highly Disciplined. 3] Psychologically Safe but Brutally Candid. 4] Collaboration but with Individual Accountability. 5] Flat but Strong Leadership.  To create and sustain a culture of innovation the author suggests is One Part Creativity and One Part Discipline. People often only focus on the Creativity part of the equation.

Charter schools need to examine their organizational cultures with these characteristics in mind because every charter school is to be about experimentation and innovation – not as a one-time event or statement – but as an ongoing element of the school’s purpose.  The whole idea was and is that innovation will improve student learning, achievement and success.   Given the purpose of chartered public schools – one has to ask whether schools that do not have a culture of innovation, and are not centers of innovation in education should be charter schools. 

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