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ERIC Number: ED544263
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2013-Mar
Pages: 32
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
What Does It Take to Scale Up Innovations? An Examination of Teach for America, the Harlem Children's Zone and the Knowledge is Power Program
Levin, Ben
National Education Policy Center
This brief discusses the problem of scaling innovations in education in the United States so that they can serve very large numbers of students. It begins with a general discussion of the issues involved, develops a set of five criteria for assessing challenges of scaling, and then uses three programs widely discussed in the U.S. as examples of the challenges involved: Teach for America (an approach to teacher development), The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) (a whole-school reform model) and the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) (a school-plus-community model). Five criteria are applied to assess scalability: cost, human capacity, tools and infrastructure, political support, and external or non-school factors. Many innovations appear to have significant additional costs--for example the additional services offered by HCZ or the longer day and year in KIPP. The non-financial challenges, however, such as being able to find enough highly skilled people, can be just as significant and are often underestimated in discussions of scaling. One cannot assume that a popular innovation necessarily represents a potential system-wide solution. Every school system should have a way to assess the potential value and challenge in adopting innovations. The goal should be to avoid either excessive enthusiasm or excessive skepticism, but to maintain a reasoned approach that over time yields collective learning. More independent research on the costs and benefits of major innovations is also required. Recommendations include: (1) All parties should avoid the temptation to proclaim small-scale innovations as the solutions to large-scale problems in education; rather they should be seen as promising ideas requiring further study before widespread adoption; (2) There should be a more rigorous process for evaluating promising innovations to determine both costs and benefits, involving fair evaluations done by independent and neutral parties; and (3) There should be full and open access to data on costs and outcomes of innovations. One key implication of this brief is that one cannot assume that an existing innovation, no matter how promising it may be in a few settings, necessarily represents a potential system-wide approach or solution. Appended are: (1) Descriptions of the Three Programs; and (2) Details on Applying the Criteria. A list of 50 notes and references is included. (Contains 1 table.)
National Education Policy Center. School of Education 249 UCB University of Colorado,Boulder, CO 80309. Tel: 303-735-5290; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice
Authoring Institution: University of Colorado at Boulder, National Education Policy Center