Innovation in Education

At Innovation Uncensored SF, we’ll host a roundtable on radical ideas for education reform. Help us set the agenda.


How do we improve education in America? We all agree it needs to be done, but there’s no consensus as to how. At Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored conference in San Francisco on November 8, we’ll host a roundtable featuring four people with very different experiences and perspectives (student Nikhil Goyal, alternative-school founder Gever Tulley, Students First CEO Michelle Rhee, and former DC teachers’-union president George Parker) to discuss solutions. But we need your help to decide what to discuss.


Please vote at the bottom of the page! To buy tickets to the event, go to

Each of our participants has offered three proposals, and we’d like you, the readers of Fast Company, to choose one of those three proposals to put on our agenda.

Nikhil Goyal, student and author of One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School

1. Make cities our classrooms.
Let’s treat cities as schools where children learn through experiential learning and learning by doing — projects, apprenticeships, working with mentors, and traveling. The community should be our curriculum where we redefine the essentials. In this model, the teacher becomes the “architect of opportunity” and a facilitator.

2. Swap pedagogy for andragogy.
We need to switch from pedagogy (teacher-focused) to andragogy (adult-leading). In this model of education, children have control, they are motivated intrinsically, and the curriculum is problem- rather than content-orientated. We need to have young people become the captains of their learning.


3. Hike teacher pay and end market-based rewards.
Let’s pay teachers at least $150,000 and abolish merit pay and market-based rewards and reforms. In a future school, the teacher becomes the “architect of opportunity” and shifts into the role of a facilitator. Evaluation transforms into a holistic process, where feedback is a natural part of the system.

China’s students now regularly top the global achievement charts, but even there, questions have been asked about the teacher-focused, rote-learning model.

Michelle Rhee, founder and CEO, Students First, and former chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools

1. Create teacher report cards.
Students receive report cards. Increasingly, schools do as well. Does it also make sense to be public about how our teachers are performing? Annual report cards would clearly outline the teacher’s strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments across multiple metrics. These report cards are provided to parents to inform them of the quality of their children’s teachers and are also used as a basis for rewards and consequences for teachers. It is essential that the report cards are clear and easy to read and understand by education professionals as well as parents or other key stakeholders who may not have any background in K-12 education or teaching. Anyone reviewing the report card should know if the teacher is getting all A’s or all C’s and what that means for the students in his/her classroom. These reports cards are issued annually at the beginning of each school year (or as soon as the relevant student performance data is available). The report cards will be of use to both the school system management and parents. Teachers themselves must be actively engaged in developing the report card concept to ensure that they driving and involved in defining success and effectiveness for their profession.

2. Make collective bargaining transparent.
Ever wonder how the provisions that make it impossible to pay great teachers more money, nearly impossible to fire ineffective teachers, or mandate that teacher layoffs occur without taking into consideration the quality of a teacher are put in place? Wonder no longer. This idea would require transparency in the collective bargaining process on two levels. First, public involvement. All contract negotiation meetings will be broadcast publicly on local/cable television channels and/or streamed online. Local television channels will share highlights of negotiations, and interview students and parents to get their perspective on potential contract changes. Feedback and reactions from students and parents will also be collected online (through social media and e-mail). Second, student involvement. Students will form a committee to represent their interests in the contract negotiation process. All high schools will be eligible to elect one student to participate. Up to five student committee members will be eligible to attend any and all contract meetings and negotiations. At any time during contract negotiation meetings, district and union members may ask the student committee representatives for their perspective on how a change to the contact might impact their learning experience.

3. Create teacher-run turnaround schools
Oftentimes, it doesn’t take a new superintendent, principal or consultant to know what should happen to turnaround a failing school. We often have highly effective teachers in schools that could chart the course for a sea change. As a strategy to turnaround a district’s lowest performing schools, high-performing teachers are given authority to run these turnaround schools and make all key decisions typically made by the district central office and/or principals. The schools would be funded directly, receiving the full per pupil allocation. Much like charter or “innovation” schools, these teacher-run schools would be given increased autonomy and flexibility to opt out of what might otherwise be standardized district programs and services. Teachers may choose to remain in a local teacher union but may need to negotiate waivers to enable them to have greater flexibility in hiring, firing, length of school/work day and year, etc. While the school staff may include teachers who have not been designated as high-performing (i.e. they do not have strong results and/or they are new and do not have any results), only the high-performing teachers are involved in making leadership and management decisions for that school. As additional teachers become high-performing or as additional high-performing teachers join the staff, they are included in the decision-making body. These teacher-run schools would be given specific performance targets that align with the district’s performance targets for turnaround schools. They remain teacher-run as long as the appropriate goals and benchmarks are being met. If the school fails to meet its targets, the district has the option to change the leadership (i.e. send in a district-chosen principal) and staffing (i.e. replace teachers).

George Parker, former president, Washington (D.C.) Teachers Union, and senior fellow, Students First

1. Hold a national teacher draft.
Every year, men and women across the country eagerly anticipate the NBA and NFL drafts to see what kind of talent will be coming to their favorite team. Great draft picks are celebrated enthusiastically. Similar to drafts conducted for professional sports teams to hire top athletes, a teacher draft would allow district and school leaders to select superstar teaching talent through a publicized draft process. Teachers would opt into the draft and agree to 1) make their results and performance data public, and 2) work at the school that drafts them in exchange for the opportunity to earn a significantly higher salary. A separate draft would be conducted for each region/state (or league). Systems with schools (all levels) in the bottom 10% (by region/state) may opt into the draft, and designate which of those schools will participate. Drafted teachers would need to be placed with a strong principal and several other talented teachers. Each year, student achievement results from the top draft picks would be published.


2. Designate “super-teachers.”
We all know that “superstar” teacher. When we see them at work, we often wish that EVERY child could have a teacher like that. Why not? In this idea, districts allocate $300,000+ to find “super teachers” in a designated subject to teach all/many students throughout the district through virtual classes and rotating on-site lectures. Students would view a lecture, which, depending upon technology available in the district, could be live via videostream or be more like Khan Academy-style videos that could be viewed in the classroom or at home. The expert teacher will also develop small group activities that will help students develop a deeper understanding of key concepts after larger group lectures/videos are complete. The expert teacher is supported with in-classroom tutors and graders to provide additional assistance to the expert teacher and to the students. Students would view a lecture, which, depending upon technology available in the district, could be live via video stream or be more like Khan Academy-style videos that could be viewed in the classroom or at home. Technology may be available for students to ask questions remotely and interact during the class lecture. Clicker technology to answer simple multiple choice questions, surveys, and polling technology (dialing up or down based upon understanding and/or interest in what teacher is saying) may also be used.

The expert teacher will also develop small group activities that will help students develop a deeper understanding of key concepts after larger group lectures/videos are complete. Additionally, after the lecture and small group activities, students take a quick assessment to check for individual understanding. The assessment will be used to help divide the class into groups. Students with full understanding may be asked to help coach their peers. Students who struggle the most may receive small group or one-on-one tutoring from the in-room assistants.

Can super-teachers help make super-students?

3. Create Teacher “Personal Service Contracts”
Many teachers leave the profession citing that it’s difficult to raise a family on a teacher salary. What if we changed that dynamic and allowed every teacher to be an entrepreneur? Instead of teachers’ pay being determined by the general contract negotiated through the union for ALL teachers, teachers could negotiate their own contracts with school districts. For example, they could agree to teach a larger class, more class periods, or provide tutoring services for more money? They would sign one year contracts with the districts that outlined specific performance measures and the district could determine at the end of the year whether or not to renew the contract. The districts would have the authority to negotiate salary, work hours and rules with individual employees.

Gever Tulley, founder, Brightworks and the Tinkering School

1. Focus on microschools
Schools don’t have to be big. The hyper-local micro-school can compete on a financial basis while delivering a more engaging learning experience.

2. Make room for alternative schools
Alternative schools are a necessary and fundamental part of the evolution of education. Traditional education is trapped in a local maxima that requires ever more effort to achieve tiny increments of performance gain.


3. Treat education as a regular practice like exercise, not as a phase
School should not be definable phase in a person’s life, but rather a regular practice. K-12 will be supplanted by K-20 which will eventually become something more like regular exercise than any specific moment in time—education blended seamlessly into life, work, vacation, and hobby.