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Aurora Institute

Building District Capacity for Student-Centered Learning and Scaling Innovation in Arkansas

Education Domain Blog

Authors: Dale Frost, Maria Worthen, Susan Gentz

Issues: State Policy, Create Pilots and Innovation Zones, Create Enabling Conditions for Competency-Based Education


The State of Arkansas is committed to helping district and school leaders scale personalized learning environments in K-12 education across the state.

The Arkansas Department of Education established an Office of Innovation for Education to increase understanding of new learning models and open space for educational innovation. The Arkansas legislature created new flexibility in policy and regulations and increased opportunities for digital learning.

The Districts and Schools of Innovation Program

In 2013, the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 601, which created the Districts and Schools of Innovation program. Approved districts’ “schools of innovation” receive increased flexibility from state rules and regulations in order to adopt innovative instructional models.

To date, the Commissioner of Education has approved 15 schools of innovation in seven school districts. Arkansas schools of innovation are implementing strategies such as: increased out-of-school learning opportunities such as internships, job shadowing, and offsite postsecondary opportunities; a focus on competency-based progressions and personalized learning pathways; and blended learning to give students increased control over the path and pace of their learning.

The Digital Learning Act of 2013

Also in 2013, the state legislature passed the Digital Learning Act of 2013 (Act 1280). The new law provides for “the expansion of digital learning opportunities to all Arkansas public school students” and removing “any impediments to the expansion of digital learning.”

Act 1280 requires the Arkansas Department of Education to maintain a list of approved, high-quality digital learning providers, directs all public schools to provide at least one digital learning course to students either as a primary or supplementary method of instruction, and requires each high school student, starting with the graduating class of 2018, to take at least one digital learning course for credit in order to graduate.

The Office of Innovation for Education

The Arkansas Office of Innovation for Education is helping schools to take advantage of the Districts and Schools of Innovation program and to maximize the impact of the Digital Learning Act. The office provides research and technical assistance for schools to create transformational, student-centered learning environments.

In a separate but complimentary effort to Act 601 and Act 1280, the office was established in 2013 as a partnership between the Arkansas Department of Education and the University of Arkansas.

The mission of the Office of Innovation for Education is to “enhance Arkansas’s capacity for research, implementation, and evaluation of educational innovations, promising practices, and programs with a high likelihood of improving outcomes for students.” It investigates new practices and connects innovators, educators, and diverse education stakeholders to promote effective, personalized instruction for all students.

The office employs researchers and instructional specialists to work with schools to match personalized learning approaches with schools’ specific needs and contexts. It also employs technical specialists to help schools effectively deploy online learning and customized technology for educators.

The Arkansas Department of Education is holding an Innovation Summit in Little Rock on September 29 to bring together school districts with higher education and policymakers to learn about innovative learning models both within the state and nationally.

The Summit offers two tracks, an exploration track to build attendees’ knowledge about innovative programs and strategies and a design track to build attendees’ skills for planning a school of innovation.

The Department is also considering ways to provide opportunities for the schools of innovation to connect regularly to share experiences and lessons learned. In addition, the Department has begun to develop videos of personalized learning in action to show what student-centered learning looks like in Arkansas schools of innovation.

Finally, the Office of Innovation for Education will support 10 people from the schools of innovation to attend the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium to learn best practices and the latest research and trends in personalized learning.

Learn More

You can learn more about Arkansas’ efforts to build district capacity for student-centered learning and scaling innovation at the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium, November 8-11, 2015, in Orlando, Florida.

At the iNACOL Symposium, Denise Airola, Director of the Arkansas Office of Innovation for Education, and Assistant Commissioner Debbie Jones will present the session, “Promoting Innovation in Uncertain Times: If Not Now, When? One State’s Experience Promoting Change Through Transition in Standards, Assessment, and Accountability.” At this interactive session, attendees will identify local factors affecting innovation in their schools and how states can more effectively scale and promote personalized learning.


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