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Arizona’s Next Step in Education Innovation

• Karla Phillips

Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C., have state-level innovation or pilot programs that promote next generation learning—a range of K-12 education models and approaches that prioritize innovative, student-centered practices to ensure every student succeeds.

ExcelinEd and Foresight Law + Policy recently published new research that closely examines next generation learning programs in each state. Our findings indicate that innovation and pilot programs—like all education policies—look different from state to state. Yet, one common theme emerged: states create these programs to give schools an opportunity to identify and request an exemption from state policies that present obstacles to innovation and improvement.

Next Generation Learning Programs in the U.S.

Arizona K-12 schools need the opportunity for next generation learning as well. And members of Arizona State University are actively working to expand innovation in the state.

Under the leadership of Carole Basile, dean of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, the college launched a new Educator Workforce Initiative. The initiative’s goal is to partner with local education leaders “to design, prototype and field an education workforce that has distributed expertise, is team-based and prioritizes personalization for both students and educators.”

Brent Maddin, executive director of the Educator Workforce Initiatives, is working to reimagine roles—and preparation—for a new educator workforce.

“I’ve come to worry that no amount of screw-tightening on traditional models of teacher preparation will make much of a difference if the challenge isn’t fundamentally one of preparation, but rather a flaw in how we’ve defined the role of ‘teacher,’” Maddin explained.

Identifying Innovative Solutions

Last month the Educator Workforce Initiative gathered nearly 100 leaders from across Arizona and the nation to brainstorm innovative solutions to the state’s very real school workforce problems. As an education advocate and next generation learning policy expert, I was privileged to join the convening.

ExcelinEd defines innovation as “a new or creative alternative to existing instructional or administrative practices intended to improve student outcomes or expand opportunities.” And I saw first-hand that this is what Arizona’s educators were there to do.

While interest in innovation is high, there was a recognition that to make it a reality educators and state leaders must first address both the real and perceived hurdles to innovation. To redefine district-level financial and human resource models, for example, Arizona must remove policy obstacles at the state level as well as confront long-held norms of how teaching and learning happen.

The obstacles discussed at the Educator Workforce Initiative were eerily similar to those I’ve heard across the country: seat-time, teacher of record, certification and teacher evaluations, to name a few.  What is different in Arizona is that district schools don’t yet have the ability to request the flexibility they need to develop innovative solutions.

But I believe the time has come to change that. Arizona schools and districts are ready to rethink and redesign learning to better serve our students. This is something our students and our educators deserve.

About the author

Karla Phillips

Karla is Policy Director for Next Generation Learning at ExcelinEd. Previously, she served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Superintendent of Policy and Programs at the Arizona Department of Education. Karla also served as the Education Policy Advisor for Governor Brewer and as the Vice-Chair of Arizona’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. Her experience includes serving as Director of State Government Relations for Arizona State University (ASU) and as a senior policy advisor for Arizona’s House of Representatives. Karla received her B.A. from Indiana University and an M.P.A from Arizona State University.