The following story was written and researched by The Utah Investigative Journalism Project in partnership with The Salt Lake Tribune. In 2015, Ken Grover, an administrator in the Salt Lake City School District, took the stage at the Salt Lake City TedX talk for his 15 minutes of education-themed inspiration.

He didn’t exactly have a Tony Robbins stage presence — Grover looks and sounds the part of a school principal down to the neat, slicked-back hair and dry, monotone jokes — but his message resonated. He beckoned education leaders to follow the lead of his school, Innovations Early College High School — “a truly magical place” where the students are in charge.

At Innovations, they come to class when they learn and progress on their own schedule. This revolutionary model, Grover explained, would result in positive academic outcomes such as graduation rates 15 to 20 points above the national average.

Grover also touted the more than 1,000 visitors who came to witness Innovations firsthand. Innovations and its principal got lots of attention.

Grover has spoken at education conferences across the country, and the acclaim helped him to get hired as a consultant on several projects, from Arkansas to as far away as China. But where supporters see magic, critics just see a not-so-cheap trick ending with a disappearing act. Read more from…

thumbnail courtesy of