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Innovating Education

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P20 Innovation Lab

About the Kentucky P20 Innovation Lab:

An ongoing concern exists that schools in the United States are not adequately preparing our students to succeed in an increasingly diverse, globalized and technology-rich world. Far too long, education leaders from all levels have worked in silos to prepare students for success. Many ‘tweaks’ have been made to learning systems that have produced only limited results. To accomplish the goal of college and career readiness for all students, radically different learning experiences and environments must be created and new systems of support for learners must be delivered. Transformation of P20 systems requires learner-centered focus, incubation space for research and innovation and unwavering collaborative support.


Kentucky’s P20 Innovation Lab, which is hosted by the University of Kentucky College of Education, is leading the way to help schools in Kentucky transform education to deliver next generation learning and, ultimately, increase the number of students who are ready to succeed in college and career. Established in 2010 to link research and innovation to issues faced in P-12 schools and districts, the P20 Lab is providing tools, feedback and assistance to schools and districts as they redesign and rethink current policies, practices and programs to support 21st century learners. The P20 Lab is an incubator for identifying, implementing and evaluating prototypes that can be scaled at the district, state and national levels.


Why Kentucky?

In 2009, Senate Bill 1 was signed into law. This landmark legislation reoriented Kentucky’s educational standards, assessments and accountability systems. One outcome of this legislation is a unique alignment of focus and priorities among the various statewide partners that have resulted in many P20 collaborative partnerships throughout the Commonwealth. In 2011, House Bill 37 provided for Districts of Innovation in Kentucky and today seven districts have been selected to create new prototypes for teaching and learning. As a result of both laws, the Kentucky Department of Education, the Kentucky Board of Education, and the Council on Post-secondary Education are strong partners in the Kentucky P20 Innovation Lab.

The work of the Kentucky P20 Innovation Lab is organized in three phases:


Phase I: Identifying Innovation – Next Generation Leadership Academy

The Next Generation Leadership Academy is a yearlong professional development endeavor focused on the design principles of Next Generation Learning, developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The design principles spring from three primary sources that did not exist or were not relevant when the current system of education was designed: (1) a deepened understanding of the process of learning; (2) greater knowledge of sociocultural factors in learning; and (3) recognition that the world has changed.

These design principles are grounded in evidence-based research and best practices:

  • Personalizing learning, which calls for a data-driven framework to set goals, assess progress and ensure students receive the academic and developmental supports they need;
  • Comprehensive systems of learning supports, which address social, emotional, physical and cognitive development along a continuum of services to ensure the success of all students;
  • World-class knowledge and skills, which require achievement goals to sufficiently encompass the content knowledge and skills required for success in a globally-oriented world;
  • Performance-based learning, which puts students at the center of the learning process by enabling the demonstration of mastery based on high, clear and commonly-shared expectations;
  • Anytime, everywhere opportunities, which provide constructive learning experiences in all aspects of a child’s life, through both the geographic and the Internet-connected community; and
  • Authentic student voice, which engages students in directing and owning their individual learning and shaping the nature of the education experience among their peers.

The Leadership Academy began its first cohort in 2011-2012 with 60 leaders consisting of superintendents, principals and central office teams representing all regions of the state. University faculty, regional university partners and state and national leaders worked together to design and build new systems for learning. Now in Cohort 3, more than 238 leaders representing 43 school districts have participated in the Leadership Academy.

The professional development begins with an intensive summer experience, culminating in planning for changes in the upcoming years. Virtual meetings are scheduled throughout the year with feedback and guidance from university and national experts. Superintendents of Districts of Innovation and Learning Innovation Zones serve as Leadership Academy Fellows: Buddy Berry, Carmen Coleman, Travis Hamby, Tom Shelton, and Lu Young. Course credit from the University is available to support school and district redesign plans.


Phase II: Implementing Innovation – Creating Scalable Prototypes (iZONES)

In Phase II, the focus of the P20 Lab expands beyond the leadership tier and extends its efforts to working with teachers and whole schools. Participants use research-based tools and resources to build new prototypes, referred to as Learning Innovation Zones (iZONES). They are charged with setting achievable, measurable targets linked to Next Generation Learning Design Principles that are challenging, but attainable within their school or district context. In this way, participants have ownership of these objectives and promote sustainable changes. The overall goals of the Academy are to: (1) improve and deepen learning for ALL students, (2) build infrastructures to increase the percentage of graduates ready for college and careers, and (3) provide leaders with options, tools and support to redesign new systems for learning. These iZONES operate in collaboration with redesigned clinically-based educator preparation programs within colleges of education and serve as clinical demonstration labs for pre-service educator candidates. This greatly enhances the effectiveness of novice teachers and administrators as they enter the profession already possessing some level of skill related to Next Generation Learning models for redesigned systems.

In Phase II, P20 Lab university faculty and school leaders apply for start-up incentive funds to support the building of new iZONES. Once these new models are implemented and positive results are achieved, districts share their work across the P20 Lab network at the annual Innovation Summit as well as serve as mentors to principals and superintendents in Phase I who are at the beginning stages of needed changes in their schools and districts. As a result of Phase II, P20 Lab districts have received funding for new iZONES from multiple funding sources including national and state foundations, corporations, and government agencies. To read about the Fayette County Schools IZONE, the “STEAM Academy,” go to http://p20.education.uky.edu/steam-academy/. The Kentucky Valley Education Cooperative received a thirty million dollar Race-to-the-Top District grant that will support Next Generation Leadership academies for 400 leaders and 400 teachers over the next four years. To read more, go to https://education.uky.edu/uk-college-of-education-partners-on-30-million-race-to-the-top-grant/


Phase III: Scaling Innovation

The P20 Lab is an incubator for identifying, implementing and evaluating prototypes that can be scaled at the district, state and national levels. Through the P20 Lab’s involvement with the Council of Chief State School Officers’ Innovation Lab Network and the Battelle Memorial Institute’s STEMx Network, innovations developed locally can be strategically scaled to national levels.

In 2009, Kentucky was one of seven states chosen by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to participate in an Innovation Lab Network (ILN) to strategically work together to design new systems for learning to more fully prepare ALL students for college and career. This partnership seeks to spark a broad-based educational transformation through the establishment of state-based networks to create proof points of scalable initiatives and system redesigns that deliver the educational outcomes we seek. The University of Kentucky works collaboratively with the Kentucky Department of Education to lead this work throughout the state.

Kentucky was selected to participate in the first cohort of innovation labs because of its readiness to undertake this type of initiative. Kentucky has a rich history of reform and a deep commitment to student success. There is also unique and rare alignment of priorities among the state education agencies who are partners in the lab and who are critical in efforts to replicate and scale the prototypes developed. The timing is ripe for an initiative of this ambition and scale to successfully impact college and career readiness of our students in Kentucky and nationally.


Sixteen states, including Kentucky, and the Battelle Memorial Institute, the world’s largest nonprofit research and development organization, have joined together to create a national network dedicated to transforming STEM education in the United States and providing K-12 students with the necessary learning to productively join the future STEM workforce. Known as STEMx, the national network connects state networks and partners to accelerate the growth of policies, practices and partnerships that are needed to expand the number of STEM teachers, increase student achievement in STEM education and, ultimately, grow tomorrow’s innovators.

Kentucky STEMx is working to connect stakeholders from across K-12 and higher education, business, government, philanthropy and the community to impact STEM education and workforce development in Kentucky. Kentucky, like most states, has multiple STEM-related centers, institutes, and programs, operating often in isolation. Kentucky STEMx is designed to recognize the good work of these individual centers and organizations as well as connect them with each other to create a shared vision to ensure Kentucky students are prepared as critical thinkers, problem solvers, innovators, and collaborators to compete and succeed in the STEM-driven global economy.

From a P20 Lab perspective, the new Kentucky STEMx network provides a comprehensive system of support for P20 Lab districts and their new learning prototypes (iZONES), providing them with the ability to share, analyze and disseminate quality STEM education ideas, tools and practices across the state and within a national network with the potential to reach millions of students across the nation.

Collectively, the STEMx Network will advance STEM by:

  •  Generating and sharing new knowledge of what works in STEM education
  • Promoting clearly articulated indicators of quality
  • Developing quality tools jointly
  • Offering interactive, on-going access to tools, exemplars and education stakeholders through an advanced technology platform
  • Connecting innovative policies and practices across the county.

As the Kentucky STEMx network grows, it will have a strong foundation built by the P20 Lab to support and sustain innovative STEM practices and policies.