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BLOGS.harvardbusiness.ORG – It’s not surprising that some of the long-standing problems facing U.S. K-12 education took a backseat given the unprecedented turbulence of 2008. But the darkening budgetary picture may ironically provide an opportunity for the most promising disruptive innovations in education in 2008 to break through the din in 2009.

The most promising reforms hold the potential to move us away from the current monolithic education system to one centered on individual student needs. Efforts that have made noise in this challenging time focus on “disrupting class”–changing our fundamental assumptions about how learning occurs, when it occurs, and where it occurs. They are challenging and improving upon the long-established learning interaction between student and teacher in the traditional classroom setting, which has remained strikingly unchanged for generations.

Players like Education2020, Class.com, Connections Academy, Insight Schools, KC Distance Learning, Michigan Virtual University, and the Idaho Digital Learning Academy all offer full “class” experiences online or virtually.

But the question of which disruption was the “Best of 2008” is a difficult one–and one that, realistically, we won’t know for many years. That said, we thought we should stir up some controversy and throw out three nominees–and then hear from you about which one you think is the best!

Our three nominees for the very best education disruptor of the year are Apex Learning; K12, Inc., and Florida Virtual School.

Apex Learning: With a comprehensive digital curriculum that connects students to teachers over the Internet, Apex Learning has seen fast growth in enrollments over the past year from a range of educational programs serving the complete spectrum of students–from those struggling to succeed in traditional programs to those capable of accelerating their learning. One of the pioneers in distance learning and virtual schooling, Apex Learning has increasingly been pulled into the brick-and-mortar classroom to provide solutions for alternative programs serving at-risk and low-performing students.

K12, Inc.: In most industries, integrated players tend to dominate at the outset. K12’s integrated nature–from curriculum development to delivery to professional development to accountability for student results–suggests it may be positioned for even greater success in the near future. K12 also demonstrates the flexibility to chase different opportunities as they arise. Although it began by serving younger children in the U.S. home-school market, K12 now offers supplemental high school courses in the U.S. and has offerings overseas as well. It also is exploring how gaming and other cutting-edge pedagogical techniques can bolster student learning.

Florida Virtual School: Florida Virtual School is the leader among the state-sponsored disruptors. Among its many policy innovations, Florida Virtual School’s autonomous, self-sustaining funding model (it receives a percentage of the per-pupil funds for each completed enrollment) is a key element for this organization’s success. The group’s growth trajectory is impressive: From 6,765 enrollments in 2000-2001, it grew to 25,615 enrollments in 2003-2004. And in 2007-08 a whopping 137,450 enrollments were completed.

Now it’s your turn. Which of the three finalists do you think is the best education disruption of 2008? Let us know and we’ll discuss the results in a future post. Also, let us know if we’ve failed to acknowledge a radical educational disruption from 2008. Maybe it was so disruptive that it didn’t make our own radar screen!

EDU – In Finland, the basic right to education and culture is recorded in the Constitution of Finland. Public authorities must secure equal opportunities for every resident in Finland to get education also after compulsory education and to develop themselves, irrespective of their financial standing. educationLegislation provides for compulsory education and the right to free pre-primary and basic education. Most other qualifying education is also free of charges for the students, including postgraduate education at universities. The key words in Finnish education policy are quality, efficiency, equity and internationalisation. Education is a factor for competitiveness. The current priorities in educational development are to raise the level of education and upgrade competencies among the population and the work force, to improve the efficiency of the education system, to prevent exclusion among children and young people, and to enlarge adult learning opportunities. Special attention is also paid to quality enhancement and impact in education, training and research and to internationalisation. Background to Finland’s success in education builds on the following * Equal opportunities The Finnish education system offers everybody equal opportunities for education, irrespective of domicile, sex, economic situation or linguistic and cultural background. The school network is regionally extensive, and there are no sex-specific school services. Basic education is completely free of charge (including instruction, school materials, school meals, health care, dental care, commuting, special needs education and remedial teaching). * Comprehensiveness of education Basic education encompasses nine years and caters for all those between 7 and 16 years. Schools do not select their students but every student can go to the school of his or her own school district. Students are neither channelled to different schools nor streamed. * Competent teachers On all school levels, teachers are highly qualified and committed. Master’s degree is a requirement, and teacher education includes teaching practice. Teaching profession is very popular in Finland, and hence universities can select the most motivated and talented applicants. Teachers work independently and enjoy full autonomy in the classroom. * Student counselling and special needs education Individual support for the learning and welfare of pupils is well accommodated, and the national core curriculum contains guidelines for the purpose. Special needs education is integrated into regular education as far as possible. Guidance counsellors support upper grade students in their studies and choice of further education. * Encouraging assessment and evaluation The student assessment and evaluation of education and learning outcomes are encouraging and supportive by nature. The aim is to produce information that supports both schools and students to develop. National testing, school ranking lists and inspection systems do not exist. * Significance of education in society Finnish society strongly favours education and the population is highly educated by international standards. Education is appreciated and there is a broad political consensus on education policy. * A flexible system based on empowerment The education system is flexible and the administration based on the principal of “Centralised steering – local implementation”. Steering is conducted through legislation and norms, core curricula, government planning and information steering. Municipalities are responsible for the provision of education and the implementation. Schools and teachers enjoy large autonomy. * Co-operation Interaction and partnerships are built at all levels of activity. There is co-operation for the development of education between various levels of administration, between schools and between other social actors and schools. Education authorities co-operate with teachers’ organisations, pedagogical subject associations and school leadership organisations. This provides strong support for the development. * A student-oriented, active conception of learning The organisation of schoolwork and education is based on a conception of learning that focuses on students’ activity and interaction with the teacher, other students and the learning environment.


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