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#AskExcelinEd: How can states use flexibility and waivers to promote innovation?

• Karla Phillips

Each year, more districts and schools across the nation break the mold of traditional education models—whether systemically or programmatically. Some are trying to meet the needs of students by blurring the idea of where and when education can happen while others seek to find innovative staffing solutions. This growing movement creates an urgent need for increased flexibility to facilitate the implementation of these innovative approaches.

Waivers and Flexibility Requests is the latest brief in our series Transitioning to Student-Centered Learning: Policy Solutions for States. The new resource outlines three steps states can take to ensure schools and districts are aware of what flexibility opportunities are available, understand how these flexibilities can be used and develop a process to evaluate and communicate outcomes.

Step 1: Build Awareness

K-12 leaders and practitioners are often unaware of existing opportunities to solve problems or design and implement next generation systems. In fact, even state education agency (SEA) staff themselves can be unaware of policies that have been in place for a long time or that were created for a different purpose. Considering this, states should begin by cataloging opportunities for flexibility and effectively communicating those opportunities to schools.

Step 2: Design Clear Application Processes

After developing an inventory of flexibilities and communicating these opportunities, state leaders can structure an application process that allows innovative leaders to easily request available flexibilities

Step 3: Inspire Broader Reform

Policymakers have authorized a range of different programs and initiatives to inspire change and innovation—all with the common goal of clearing away policy obstacles that stand in the way of student-centered learning. The final step of this flexibility framework is to develop a plan that annually communicates the results of these waiver requests to state policymakers. With this information policymakers can determine what kind of long-term changes are needed to help all schools. Ultimately, waivers from laws and regulations that facilitate innovation and improve outcomes for students should be targets for broader reform.

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.