Autonomous Schools and Innovation Zones

November 11, 2014: Teachers Design and Run L.A. Unified 'Pilot' Schools. By Kim Farris-Berg and Kristoffer Kohl, Education Week, November 10, 2014
June, 2014: Indianapolis Innovation Network Schools and Boston Report on School Autonomy

January, 2013 -- Autonomous Schools have control over staffing, budget, curriculum and assessment, governance, and school calendar.Since Boston launched Pilot Schools ("In-District Charter Schools") in 1995, most of the action in creating autonomous governance models has happened in the charter public sector and not in the local or state public school districts. In the last few years, however, there have been some significant developments in local districts. Los Angeles in 2007 launched the Belmont Zone of Choice Pilot Schools, expanded it citywide in 2009, and in December, 2011, the district and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) signed the Local Stabilization MOU, which allows all L.A. schools the opportunity to seek autonomous status. Other districts, notably New York City, Nashville, and Denver have established innovation zones. On this page are resources to assist educators to learn more about these pilot schools and autonomous schools in districts, and in state innovation zones. -- Bob

I. Districts

1. Boston's Pilot Schools

2. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)

3. Other School District Innovation Zones

In the past 5 years several school districts have established innovation zones for either new autonomous schools (New York City) or turnaround schools (Metro Nashville, Denver).

II. State Innovation Zones

In the past 5 years several states have established innovation zones for either new autonomous schools (Minnesota, Massachusetts, Kentucky, West Virginia) or turnaround schools (Hawaii).


III. Resources

IV. Organizations Promoting Innovation Zones and Innovation School Networks

education innovating - A project of education evolving.

  • This blog follows a growing movement of innovation in public education that is generating new models of schools, different approaches to learning, and expanding traditional definitions of achievement.
  • Innovation Zones

Innovative Schools Network

The Wisconsin Innovative Schools Network (WISN) supports the establishment and growth of high quality, research-based innovative schools by providing professional training and guidance, and ensuring that educators can easily collaborate, connect, and learn from one another.

Innovative Schools, Delaware

An intermediary organization that researches highly successful programs around the country and then works with national partners to customize and replicate these models in Delaware.


Boston's Pilot Schools

"In-District Charter Schools"

    1. Creating the Pilot Schools
    2. Research on Pilot Schools
    3. Autonomies Checklist for New Small Schools and Small Learning Communities
    4. Current Listing of Boston Pilot Schools (2012)
    5. Center for Collaborative Education: Five Pilot School Areas of Autonomy, plus Accountability, Network of autonomous Boston public schools, Pilot School Network resources
    6. Original BTU-BPS Contract language on Pilot Schools, 1994; Pilot Schools RFP, 2007
    7. June 2014: Education report examines impact of school autonomy - Story and Video; Report - The Path Forward: School Autonomy and Its Implications for the Future of Boston's Public Schools (PDF), June 2014; Boston Globe story (includes quotes from Boston Teachers Union), June 3, 2014.

Smarter Charters? Creating Boston's Pilot Schools
Can charter school initiatives spur reform in the public school system through new schools that are models of innovation and that somehow both pressure and inform the existing system?

The nation’s more than 1000 charter schools are almost entirely products of state legislation that bypass what Ted Kolderie of the Minnesota-based Center for Policy Studies calls the "exclusive franchise" of local school boards. The result is that most charter schools, while interesting, are often marginal to local school districts and local reform efforts, are seen as "hostiles", and in nearly all cases receive no material or moral support from the local districts where they reside.

Could not an alternative scenario have emerged, where local districts, determined to promote educational innovation, would charter local groups of parents and educators to start new schools or to transform existing ones outside the framework of local rules and regulations?

Boston's "in-district charter schools", called "pilot schools", shows that charters can be realized through district and teacher union sponsorship. There are now eleven operating pilot schools in Boston. Combined with four state-sponsored charters in the city, Boston has the highest concentration of charter schools of any locality in the country.

How do these "in-district charters" stack up against their state-sponsored brethren? Are pilot schools smarter charters than state-sponsored charters? In this chapter, Smarter Charters? Creating Boston's Pilot Schools, Bob Pearlman, former President of the Autodesk Foundation, and former Coordinator of Educational Reform Initiatives for the Boston Teachers Union, chronicles the successes, challenges and limitations of the "in-district charters" and the lessons for district and state policymakers.

"Smarter Charters? Creating Boston's Pilot Schools", is reprinted by permission of the publisher from Clinchy, E., "CREATING NEW SCHOOLS: HOW SMALL SCHOOLS ARE CHANGING AMERICAN EDUCATION", (New York: Teachers College Press, copyright 2000 by Teachers College, Columbia University. All rights reserved.), pp. 38-48.

In this timely new volume, acclaimed educational scholars and experts explore the major reform issues currently facing American educational institutions. Particular attention is given to the challenges faced by new, smaller, and more independent schools. Contributors include: Linda Nathan, Larry Myatt, Robert Pearlman, Dan French, Meredith Gavrin, Ellalinda Rustique-Forrester, Ann Cook, Beth J. Lief, Judith Rizzo, David Sherman, Linda Darling-Hammond, Jacqueline Ancess, Kemly McGregor, David Zuckerman, Deborah Meier, Seymour Sarason, and Evans Clinchy.

To order Creating New Schools: How Small Schools Are Changing American Education edited by Evans Clinchy ($23.95), please contact Teachers College Press at 1-800-5756566 (Toll Free) or e-mail orders to:

Research on Pilot Schools

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)

1. LAUSD Pilot Schools

2. LAUSD Expanded School Based Management Model (ESBMM). ESBMM MOU.

3. LAUSD Local Initiative Schools (LIS), 2011