IDEAS IN INNOVATIVE EDUCATION

Senator excited to see educators reach kids where they are, take them even further

By Sen. Erin Oban

Though the North Dakota Legislature only meets 80 days (or slightly fewer) every two years, many policy changes are years in the making. SB 2186, more often called the “education innovation bill,” is a perfect example.

After years of meeting with teachers and administrators, Superintendent Kirsten Baesler heard an overwhelming theme from school districts of all sizes across the state: the desire to let teachers teach with greater freedom and flexibility, respecting the different styles and needs of their students.

Rep. Cynthia Schreiber-Beck, bottom row far left, and Sen. Erin Oban, bottom row far right, were important to moving the Education Innovation bill through both houses of the North Dakota Legislature.

We all know — or at least we do if we’re paying any attention — countless teachers who lead the way in innovative teaching practices that engage and prepare their students for the future. But they’ve done so within certain constraints of state law. In an effort to take North Dakota kids’ K-12 educational experience to an even greater place, Superintendent Baesler invited a bipartisan group of legislators to introduce the education innovation bill in response to that very basic but bold request from school leaders.

THINKING OUTSIDE OF THE BOX

As one of the co-sponsors of SB 2186, here’s my take on how it might work for schools with the leadership both inside and outside their school to make this a reality …

Upon receiving support from their community and with a vote of approval from their school board, school leaders can submit a plan to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) that describes what new or more innovative practices the entire school or part of the school wants to employ in the delivery of education. The plan can be accepted as is, amended if necessary, or rejected. As a part of that plan, the Superintendent now has the authority to waive state educational requirements, such as seat time or when, where, and how learning happens, that may inhibit or restrict those more innovative practices and educational experiences that can enhance learning.

INNOVATION AT ALL LEVELS

Each applying school’s plan can and probably will look different from the next. For one, it might be spearheaded by an administrator interested in school-wide changes. For some, it may come at the request of a team of teachers who want to incorporate subject areas and content standards together through, for example, semester-long projects with their students. For others, maybe a teacher wants to collaborate with a local business owner to oversee learning outside of the classroom or school day through an internship or work experience. For others still, perhaps a teacher wants to become more of a “facilitator” of learning, creating a more personalized approach where individual students freely move from one lesson to the next as they demonstrate proficiency.

Regardless of what the plan looks like or how extensive or widespread it is used, none of those practices looks “traditional” in the way our state laws sometimes still dictate. Now that SB 2186 is law, we’ve created more room for teachers and administrators and school districts to reach kids where they are and take them even further than imagined. And that’s exciting!

SHARED VALUES

Helping shepherd this bill through the Senate on its path to becoming law was such a pleasure. As a fellow NDU member and former teacher, I don’t just follow NDU’s staff and mission because they’re great “lobbyists” (or even because my husband works for you). I do it because I’ve shared your values long before being elected. And as a senator for thousands of families impacted each day by the quality of our schools, I feel a strong obligation to make what is great about our schools even better whenever the opportunity arises.

With SB 2186, the opportunity arose. I can’t wait to see what the real professionals, the leaders in education all across North Dakota, do with it.

 

House rose above challenges to encourage learner-focused programs

By Rep. Cynthia Schreiber-Beck

Senate Bill 2186 — the Innovative Learning Bill — was important legislation for school districts across North Dakota. From my perspective, this bill provides the opportunity for districts to design innovative education programs that focus on students and student success. This bill is not a legislative mandate, but a tool for districts to utilize.

LOCAL CONTROL

The language in 2186 allows the governing body of a school (public or private), with input from students, parents, teachers, administrators and the local community, the opportunity to design an innovative education program that must:

  • Improve the delivery of education;
  • Improve the administration of education;
  • Provide an increased educational opportunity for students; or
  • Improve the academic success of students

If the proposal submitted by the school district or school meets the above requirements, and progress can be measured, a waiver of a current statute in 8 Chapters of Title 15.1 (Elementary and Secondary Education) or Chapter 15–20.1 (Career and Technical Education) may need to occur. Because it is not known what innovative programs may be designed, it is impossible to know what statutes, if any, may need to be waived in order for innovative learning to be incorporated. It is the responsibility of the school district to apply for the waiver of the statute(s) necessary to implement the innovative learning plan. If all requirements are met, the superintendent of public instruction may provide the waiver to the school or school district.

STUDENT/LEARNER FOCUSED

Innovative education in K-12 education is not a new concept. Many states have incorporated innovative education, as have many North Dakota educators. Additionally, students who are home-schooled and those students with an IEP, are afforded innovative educational opportunities.

Innovative education programs focus on the learner. Jennifer Groff, educational engineer and co-founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign, defines the seven essential principles of innovative learning: learners have to be at the center of what happens in the classroom; learning is a social practice and can’t happen alone; emotions are an integral part of learning; learners are different; students need to be stretched, but not too much; assessment should be for learning, not of learning; and learning needs to be connected across disciplines. https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/02/01/7-essential-principles-of-innovative-learning/

Innovative learning focuses on student-centered instruction followed by mastery of the content, then utilization of the skills and finally assessment when ready. As a former speech and language pathologist, I utilized those same steps, which were key to my students successfully completing program objectives and goals.

LEGISLATIVE OBSTACLES

From the perspective of a second-session representative, it was challenging for the House to pass an educational bill that would allow statutes to be waived without direct legislative oversight.

Additionally, a majority of representatives would have experienced, and succeeded in, a traditional educational environment. As with any legislation, it was essential to provide data as to the importance of SB 2186, but also to outline the mechanics of the bill as related to the oversight and reporting requirements of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Communication from constituents regarding the significance of SB 2186 was also critical, and I appreciated the support garnered by the education community.

MOVING FORWARD

Education is the backbone of the economy. A workforce that can adapt to an ever-changing workplace and work pace with innovative ideas, maintains and grows the viability and vitality of North Dakota. All citizens share in the responsibility to provide students the opportunity to experience success in the educational arena, and educators shoulder a greater share of that responsibility. The goal from my legislative perspective should be to allow educators the flexibility to be innovative for the benefit of students.