Twenty years ago, public charter schools opened as incubators of innovation. Today we charge ourselves with answering what innovations in public education have come out of the NJ charter movement? What does innovation look like? Where can we find examples of innovation in action? And most importantly, how do we know innovative practices are working?
This year’s annual gathering will highlight innovation and begin to unpack the answers to these critical questions—answers that will inform the next 20 years of public charter school education in the state.
Innovation is embedded in the DNA of charter schools. While there is little in education that has yet to be tried, innovation is the cross-section of established ideas and new methods or applications of those ideas. It’s not about invention—though we encourage and support that, too!—but about taking existing frameworks and using them more effectively to achieve outcomes that drive student success.
For example, differentiated instruction—sometimes referred to as individualized or personalized instruction—has existed in special education since 1975 and individual education plans (IEPs) became a requirement in 1990 under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. New Jersey public charter schools mainstreamed the method for every child, irrespective of a special education classification. The approach being that every child learns differently, and if IEPs benefit children with special learning needs, why wouldn’t they serve every child? And charter leaders were right. Greater Brunswick Charter School (chartered 1998) is emblematic of this approach that, while it is not a new idea, it is an innovative approach to general education populations.
Differentiated instruction is just one of a number of ways New Jersey’s charter schools are innovating, and here’s a few more ways:
- College support not only to matriculate, but to graduate and pursue a career of choice
- Arts-focused education that blends principles of artistic expression with cutting-edge technology
- Ethical and social justice engagement whereby students approach each subject with a solutions-oriented model to address an issue
- Creating a micro-society for students to run as they grapple with real-world issues on their level
- Language immersion programs for students to become bilingual and bi-literate in the global stage
- Literacy as a primary focus in every subject beyond what standards require
- STE(A)M education that encourages innovation leadership essential to the 21st century economy
Innovation goes beyond implementing a new curriculum or the addition of technology. As demonstrated in the examples above, innovation is a process that synthesizes a growing understanding of human development, technology, academic standards, instructional approach, content/curriculum, and culture. That’s where innovation takes place. It evolves with research, experience, data, and connecting each element to build a program that produces strong outcomes for students.
We are excited to host a series of sessions on innovation at this year’s conference, including:
Education for Sustainability
Going beyond “green” and using sustainable living as a model to create community
A panel discussion with Barack Obama Green Charter High School (Plainfield), Ridge & Valley Charter School (Blairstown), Unity Charter School (Morristown), ECO Charter School (Camden), and Philip’s Academy Charter School (Newark/Paterson)
STEM and STE(A)M
Making engineering and the sciences accessible to new generations of students
A presentation from innovators who are making the sciences accessible and exciting to everyone, rather than a selective enrollment
ELA for ALL
Presenting a systematic approach to literacy instruction, veteran educator Sarah Tantillo, Ed.D. will demystify how to strengthen ELA instruction across the curriculum.
We look forward to having you join us in October and hearing the ways in which innovation is producing outcomes for kids in your school!