EdInterwebs: Taking risks in risky places: Why are “at-risk” schools the most risk-averse?

Over the weekend, I was able to attend EduCon 2.5 at Science Leadership Academy. The education innovation conference had a strong focus on enhancing education with the power of technology and entrepreneurship though there were many conversations which challenged the traditional views of both these ideas and their applications within education. Day One was spent at the Franklin Institute where a panel of professionals opened up the opportunities for the future of education. The controversial topic of failure and risk within education became my focal point of the conversation. Entrepreneurs are justifiably quick to embrace the ideas of “fail forward” and “failure is a learning opportunity.” However, as the moderator brought up, there are spaces where failing is not an option such as Mr, Irving, a pilot who is engaging in an innovative flight simulation project with youth. Mr. Irving pointed out “There’s a difference between failure and calculated risk.” I tweeted out something in relation to risk:

…the risk. it’s cool and it’s catchy. if we’re honest though, we know risk usually comes with privilege #EduCon

— C. Rogers, Educator (@edinterwebs) January 26, 2013

What’s troubling is the double edged sword of innovation. We are often in need of spaces where the culture allows us to take “risks” but we are hesitant to do this in “risky” places. In schools where there are tremendous supports and partnerships such as SLA, the culture pushes you to innovate AND I LOVE IT. On the other hand, “at-risk” schools are usually never the centers (or subjects) of innovation and /or international conferences. In these spaces, the discourse seems to recommend out-of-school spaces for innovative teaching practices (community centers, libraries, etc.). “We have to be extra cautious using classrooms as testing labs. There is a lot at stake. Once, we can show the effectiveness of these practices, then they can spread”—was how someone related it to me. Understandable. I can relate to the use of underserved schools as pilot projects, further promoting (justifying) their success and/or failure to the school with the % of Free/Reduced Lunch population. Who is allowed to take risk? What parameters make it OK for the leaders to be unsure of the outcomes of a particular strategy? Where can we find the innovative thinkers to take root within spaces that are most damaged by poverty, oppressive forces, and rigid educational policies? Are these spaces dependent upon the SLA’s of the world to find the burden of proof before we allow these strategies to infiltrate into the mainstream? I continue to question the balance of risk calculations and the significance of outcomes. In a ConnectedLearning.tv lunch session, a participant asked: “If all the research points to these principles (see connected learning infographic) as the impetus for student learning, how come we have such a culture of high-stakes testing? I believe the answer to her question lies in these risk “calculations.”