How Legislators Can Spur Innovation in Education

Published October 1, 1998

Ohio industrialist David Brennan has a message for all those who think that charter schools, pilot voucher programs, and private scholarships already have brought significant changes to public education: “We haven’t scratched the surface of what can be done in terms of innovation in education.”

Brennan wants to see “the great innovative American spirit” set loose on education, citing the computer industry’s last 15 years as an example of how innovation–without government direction–can bring dramatic change by reducing costs and increasing quality.

The chairman of Brennan Industrial Group, Inc. and founder of the HOPE Academies in Cleveland, Brennan was speaking as one of the participants in a well-attended panel discussion on “Improving Public Education: How to Legislate Catalytic Change” at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s 25th Anniversary Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, in August.

Fresh from his recent experiences in establishing charter schools in Ohio, Brennan offered legislators the following suggestions to encourage innovation in education:

  • permit alternate certification within charter schools;
  • encourage more private schools;
  • permit open enrollment in public schools;
  • establish goals and data elements for reporting school performance, and let each school design its own Report Card.

“Choice is good because it creates innovation,” said Brennan. “There is no justification for government interference in the child-parent decision on the choice of a school except in the most exceptional circumstances,” he added, saying that the focus should be on “what’s good for the kids, and how to get there.”

Other participants in the ALEC panel were Milwaukee Public Schools board member John Gardner; Thomas W. Carroll, president of New York’s Empire Foundation for Policy Research; and Stacey Boyd, founding director of the Academy of the Pacific Rim.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].