Luminary Learning Network in the National Spotlight - Gates Family Foundation

Interest in innovation zones has picked up in recent years, as legislatures in several states — including Colorado — have given school districts the authority to grant traditional public schools and school networks charter-like freedoms from district and state policies.

In a new series of case studies, The Bridgespan Group profiles the experiences of five school districts at the vanguard of innovation zones—DenverChicagoIndianapolisMemphis, Tennessee; and Springfield, Massachusetts. The Luminary Learning Network (LLN) became Denver Public Schools first innovation zone in 2016, aiming to build on past progress rather than to catalyze a turnaround initiative.

In a related article published by Philanthropy Roundtable, Bridgespan profiles the experiences of three funders — including the Gates Family Foundation — who have invested in this new wave of innovation zones and believe that such zones have to the potential to boost funder confidence in district investment.

Bridgespan found that these efforts share design features that have the potential to result in substantial improvements in student outcomes. Specifically, healthy innovation zones:

  • Set ambitious goals for student outcomes, and hold schools accountable
  • Guarantee school-level autonomy that is durable to withstand changes at the district
  • Prioritize excellence in teaching
  • Ensure students receive multiple years of great instruction
  • Are designed from the start to be sustainable and scalable

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