The Secret Sauce of Replicating a Good Idea

For a good idea to truly have a powerful impact, it needs to be replicable. And that’s what the New Tech Network is doing: teaching schools across the country how to scale the Napa New Tech model.

“When you talk about meaningful change that’s sustainable, you’re talking about a system change,” said Chris Walsh, director of innovation and design at New Tech Network, which is a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks. “What the New Tech system represents is [dismantling] the traditional model, then putting back the components so everything meshes together.”

It’s an arduous process, and one that takes a year’s worth of planning and hard work on everyone’s part, and about half a million dollars to institute. For starters, the three non-negotiables that every New Tech school must have are:

- 1-1 computers (that is, one computer for every student)

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- Project-based learning

- Team teaching

And the schools must be flexible in reconfiguring the curriculum. “If you have pacing guides, and you have to cover this topic on this day, it won’t work,” Walsh said.

But if and when schools are prepared to move forward, the process goes something like this:

- New Tech Network coaches visit an interested school and show them the master plan of how a New Tech school is put together and governed.

- New Tech coaches shadow the converting school's teachers and administrators.

- Educators from the converting school are brought to Napa New Tech to see first-hand how the system work in practice.

- Educators from the converting school go through a five-day training process (last year 400 new teachers were trained for 27 new schools), where they’re introduced to a “blitz of project-based training,” according to Walsh.

- When the school becomes part of the New Tech Network, New Tech coaches visit the school up to 10 times a year, keeping close tabs on the rubrics. They also offer them remote support with Skype, e-mail, and lots of phone calls.

- Each year, all the New Tech educators convene at a national conference to get “re-energized,” Walsh said.

One more interesting point Walsh brings up about teacher training:

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“Traditional schools of education don’t graduate students who are ready for this, so a lot of time has to be spent training teachers,” he said.

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