May 26, 2018
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Angus King will help make educators into innovators

By Barbara Kurshan, Special to the BDN

If we’re going to improve student achievement, we have to embrace innovation and sometimes-radical techniques and outside-the-box approaches to teaching.

As we approach the November elections, I’m surprised to see that most of the problems facing our K-12 education system have taken a back seat to the economy and the turbulence of the global arena. It’s these very economic concerns and America’s ability to compete in an international marketplace that should be spurring us to find the most exciting and jarring changes for our public schools.

That’s why we need to elect former Gov. Angus King to the United States Senate. He’s a leader who understands the importance of innovation in education and will bring that leadership to Washington.

Innovation requires support in multiple ways during its incubation and growth phases. First, educators need support to convert ideas into prototypes from which they can seek feedback from fellow teachers and students. New ideas need time to grow and access to programs that provide financial and technical support.

Under the ex-governor’s leadership, the Maine laptop initiative was initially tested by coastal teachers and then effectively implemented across the state in the launch phase of the project (second phase).

The third phase is scale. The success of the laptop initiative has been documented and researched and has affected 72,000 teachers and students in grades 7-12. The research has shown students using the laptops have higher writing test scores, teachers and students are more engaged, and math scores have improved.

The laptop initiative, as conceived and implemented by King, has empowered teachers, leveled the playing field of digital equity and has made all students technology literate.

King recently said about the program, “We did the right thing at the right time. It has been tremendously successful.”

In education, history shows us the most promising innovations address the individual student. Efforts addressing the child stem from the concept of “disrupting class.”

Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn have coined the term disruptive innovation, which refers to new ideas that change the fundamental assumptions about how learning occurs, when it occurs and where it occurs. Maine has been a leader in taking risks to make a difference in education.

After leaving office, King continued promoting innovation in education, not just in Maine, but globally. He created and built the Maine International Center for Digital Learning, a nonprofit organization helping educators use digital technologies to promote student learning.

With its connections to most of Maine’s middle and high schools, and national and international organizations and learning institutions, the center has become a strong force in America’s debate around digital programs and individualized learning.

Education is a local endeavor, but to make innovative change, we need leaders who understand the national and global importance of new ideas. King understands how to balance costs with change, knowing that innovative ideas are often driven by emotional energy and not just dollars.

We need leaders who are not afraid to take risks in education and who want to disrupt the status quo. Our students and our country can no longer wait for change. As senator, King will provide the tools, experience and passion needed to create education policy that embraces change, promotes innovation and instills Maine’s entrepreneurial spirit in the classrooms of America.

Dr. Barbara Kurshan is executive director of academic innovation at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

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