The idiom or the figure of speech “look for a needle in a haystack” is used to describe something elusive in a large space or a sisyphean task. Magnifying glass on the needle is isolated on white
The idiom or the figure of speech “look for a needle in a haystack” is used to describe something elusive in a large space or a sisyphean task. Magnifying glass on the needle is isolated on white
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The Bottom Line Needle in a Haystack: School Innovation


According to Chelsea White of the Christensen Institute, there’s a dearth of information about innovation in schools across the country. In short, the “innovations schools are pursuing never makes it beyond the district office—and when it does, it’s not reliably or consistently documented, shared, or promoted.”

In a project they call the Canopy, the institute is doing something about that. As stated in A VIEW FROM THE CANOPY: Building Collective Knowledge on School Innovation, “The Canopy is a collaborative effort to surface a more diverse set of innovative schools, and develop an index of approaches linked to student-centered learning.” 

Encouragingly, they found that traditional public schools which represents 67% of their dataset are “work[ing] towards student-centered learning regardless of governance model or circumstance.” But they note that many schools of innovation are operating “under the radar.” Rather than having a broad set of data on school innovation, they conclude that instead there is an “echo chamber” surrounding K-12 school innovation in which a “limited sampling is…circulated word of mouth.”

Based on their data, they were able to hypothesize on six key questions: Approaches to implementation of learner agency are not being documented; Rural schools are struggling when it comes to innovation, whether it be implementation or recognition; Schools with a higher population of Black students may not have the same opportunities as others; Experiential learning, learning from doing, have trouble scaling in schools of low income; Redefining student success can turn out to be different in marginalized communities; Lower-poverty schools may not meet the needs of marginalized groups of students.  

At the ACTE, we believe what is needed is for widespread innovation in our schools is a movement for change as opposed to a top-down dictum. The appropriate level to implement change is the state level because it is hard to find an urban district that has been able to execute a long-term plan of school improvement. Policies passed and leadership hired by one school board can easily be changed by the next.

The Canopy is an admirable project to gain insights about school innovations across the country.  The Christensen Institute should be applauded for “offer[ing] a glimpse into important questions about how school innovation is evolving…[and] that the education field should investigate further to ensure that student-centered approaches take root and grow.”

Bailey Takacs

Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs currently serves as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.