Time to take stock of innovation

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Our first Learning section of the year seems an appropriate place to take a look at innovative approaches to education.

Creative people can be found in every kind of setting, and their ideas often take unexpected forms. A woman who helps teachers by encouraging them to stomp and growl (don't worry, it's not in front of the children) is introduced, along with a few others whose ideas have attracted support from an international foundation.

One popular path for people who want to reinvent schools these days is to actually invent one - by starting a public charter school.

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The idea is no longer new, but now that the first decade of experimentation has passed, these educational equivalents of start-up companies are due for their business reviews (see today's lead story).

Some charter schools have raised test scores, fulfilled parents' hopes, and moved into nicer digs. In less-happy cases, schools have folded because of mismanagement or outright fraud.

Thoughtful observers of the movement disagree about what long-range effects it will have.

One book that takes a critical look at charter schools and the trend toward deregulation of education recently caught my eye.

"Expect Miracles: Charter Schools and the Politics of Hope and Despair" (Westview Press) posits that charters serve largely as an "escape" for small groups of students who aren't satisfied with, or aren't performing well in, their local public schools.

While the innovations that benefit those students are worth celebrating, authors Peter Cookson Jr. and Kristina Berger suggest, that energy would be better spent on improving the public school system not piece by piece, but as a whole.

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