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The pockets of innovation scattered in K-12 classrooms are not enough to meet the challenges facing the nation’s schools. Addressing this moment requires moving beyond patchwork solutions to durable, coherent innovations that are deeply embedded in schools. Fortunately, educators across the country are showing what it is like to embrace the strengths, passions and needs of each student, especially those who have historically been underserved.
A new analysis this morning by the Canopy Project, a collaborative effort among 161 school leaders to uncover and share information on K-12 innovations, coordinated by the Center for Public Education Reform and Transcend, highlights some of the most exciting trends. Some overviews are given. At K-12, they are described directly by the leaders of the schools that form them. Innovative schools, for example, show a clear tendency to redesign school content and methods to accommodate different identities of students, especially those who have traditionally been marginalized. For example, schools serving a higher-than-average proportion of children with disabilities are more likely than other schools to provide accommodations to all students, not just schools with individualized education programs. High, allowing every child to determine their own pace of learning.
Principal Jessica Tunney of Tomorrow’s Leadership Collaborative, a public charter school in Orange, California, strengthened relationships between students with and without disabilities through universal attention and inclusive instruction. Her school incorporates play into instruction and finds creative ways to increase access. For example, she introduces sign language as a communication strategy for English learners and non-linguistic students. Tomorrow’s Leadership Academy’s model is built around collaborative education, so every classroom is staffed by a general education expert and a special education expert, ensuring all students benefit from the expertise of both can do. Scheduled teacher collaboration time is sacred, and educators are expected to jointly plan and co-direct lessons that include the academic and social needs of all students.
Tomorrow’s Leadership Collaborative is just one example of a school that reflects Canopy’s innovation mandate. Of the 161 learning environments surveyed, 88% reported a focus on students with disabilities, 86% on disadvantaged children, and 74% on children of color.
Schools with a higher proportion of economically disadvantaged students were more likely to report using a trauma-informed approach to learning. They were also more likely than other schools to extend hours and provide additional services to support the physical and mental health of their students. is trending upward. Over the past two years, it has become the most frequently added practice reported by Canopy school leaders. In this approach, adults are trained to recognize and respond to students affected by traumatic stress, and students are provided with clear expectations and communication strategies to navigate stressful situations.
Enrolling predominantly students of color, Canopy School focuses on social justice, implements anti-racist practices, and adopts cultures to ensure fairness and inclusiveness. more likely to report taking a considerate approach. Leaders at these schools were also more likely to report using lessons that featured real-world problem solving. For example, Fanny Lou Hammer Freedom High School, a public school in the Bronx, emphasizes political engagement and student activism. Students recently petitioned local legislators to rename her street to honor Hammer’s legacy and educate the community about her contributions to social justice.
Schools that enroll more emerging bilingual students than average are reportedly about twice as likely to offer bilingual programming as other Canopy schools. Interestingly, schools serving more students with disabilities were also twice as likely to offer bilingual programming. Only 16 schools mentioned the practice, but many appeared to focus on meeting the needs of both emerging bilingual and disabled students. For example, the Vimenti School in Puerto Rico provides bilingual education to 38% of students with disabilities. Also, Albuquerque Sign Language Academy offers her bilingual programming in English and American Sign Language at a school where 55% of students have a disability.
Canopy School clearly demonstrates that innovative education is not temporary and is not just for privileged students. Canopy Schools represent many regions, governing structures, racial identities, and income groups. However, our analysis shows that we are reimagining learning environments to be more dynamic and responsive to student needs for all students, wherever they are and which children they serve.
Disclosure: The Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Overdeck Family Foundation provided financial support to the Canopy Project, 74.
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